First it was Hugh F-W with chickens and this time around it Jamie O making the general public aware of pig welfare. Even though I deem myself to well read on various food issues the programme screened on Thursday night still surprised me.
It may sound silly, but you just don’t think of pork being intensively reared, but it can be. It was good to see that the UK has a higher minimum welfare conditions compared to the rest of the EU, but these minimum conditions hardly produce happy pigs. This also means the supermarkets are flooded with cheap pork products that misleadingly appear to be from the UK, but are really from the rest of the EU where welfare conditions are poorer. Similarly, imported pig products that do not conform to UK law and/or common practice are sold alongside UK products in many stores. Not only are these welfare standards poor for pigs they are slowly killing the British pork industry as many consumers are choosing price over quality.
For me, the most shocking part of the programme was the misleading labelling. Don’t trust the pictures and writing on the front of the packaging. Even if on the front of the packaging it says “UK sourced” don’t trust it. The only place to find out the truth is to read the back label. For example Wiltshire Cured bacon isn’t cured in Wiltshire, it’s cured using a cure called Wiltshire Cure and could be cured anywhere. For those of you interested in what exactly Wiltshire Cure it I found this .
Not only was it about how pigs are treated, but also what happens to the meat after slaughter. Not mentioning any names but in one supermarket some pork steaks were found to contain only 85% pork. How a slab of meat can only contain 85% meat? That will be the classic trick of pumping meat with saline…mmmm nice.
All of the programme made me very glad we get all of our pork from Packington Pork or from a smallholding friend where we know the pigs have had a happy, free-range life. It also makes me want to rear some pigs. Not right now as we wouldn’t be able to fit them in teeny tiny garden, but you never know, in the future. Hubby’s piggy visit to River Cottage has also cemented this notion.
In conjunction with Jamie’s show the RSPCA have launched a Rooting for Pigs campaign. They are calling for:
* clear and consistent labelling on pork products.
* a better law to protect pig welfare.
In a recent poll, only 2% of those questioned understood the terms used on pork products, such as ‘outdoor bred’ or ‘outdoor reared’. So what do the different terms mean?
There is no legal definition of ‘free range’ when it comes to pork. Retailers can label the pork they sell as ‘outdoor bred’ or ‘free range’ without providing definitions. Although the perception that keeping livestock outside is best for welfare does not always hold true, free range systems in which pigs are kept throughout their lives outside in paddocks do ensure animals have freedom to move around and express natural behaviours.
There is no doubt the term ‘outdoor bred’ sends out all the right messages to consumers who want to buy pork from pigs free to roam outdoors. However, despite the often held belief that this term means pigs will spend much of their lives living outside, in practice, the term is usually used to label pork from pigs that have only spent the first three or four weeks of their lives in free range systems. ‘Outdoor bred’ pigs are born outside, and their mothers almost invariably stay outside in paddocks throughout their breeding lives. However, once they have been weaned from their mothers, the piglets are moved into indoor systems, which can vary considerably in terms of the welfare standards they provide.
‘Outdoor reared’ is usually used to describe a system in which the piglets are kept with full access to the outdoors for up to around 10 weeks of age, before being moved to indoor rearing/finishing accommodation. Production of ’outdoor reared’ pigs on any commercial scale is relatively rare.
Go on, start rooting for pigs.