But I Thought Red Tractor Pork was High Welfare?

When it comes to pigs, watch out for the Red Tractor label… and don’t buy it. Red Tractor makes claims to ‘assure’ customers that their pigs have been raised in high welfare conditions. Not so.

Red Tractor label

Pigs in Cages

Under the Red Tractor label, mother pigs (sows) can be kept in steel cages (farrowing crates) too narrow for them to turn around, for five weeks at a time in each pregnancy. Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association and many other animal welfare charities continuously object to this cruelty, and urge the UK to follow other countries such as Norway, Finland and Switzerland that have already banned this inhumane, restricting and painful confinement.

Telling Porkies

Red Tractor have been caught in the past deliberately trying to mislead people. One such advert that read: “PORK NOT PORKIES – RED TRACTOR PORK IS HIGH WELFARE PORK” was ruled misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority and had to be removed.

Barren Floors

In reality, the Red Tractor label does not even guarantee compliance with minimum UK legal welfare requirements. Many farms accredited by Red Tractor house pigs permanently on bare concrete slats. This makes it impossible for the farm to comply with the UK law that requires pigs to have permanent access to straw or similar bedding. The bedding material would block the slats and prevent manure from dropping down to tanks below.

Routine Mutilation

Many Red Tractor pig farms also ignore the law forbidding routine docking of piglets’ tails. The law specifies that tail docking cannot be carried out routinely, and that the cause of tail biting (stress caused by lack of bedding and overcrowding) must be addressed before any tail docking is carried out. However, it is clear that the routine tail docking of pigs is widespread and ongoing.

Substandard Inspections

The Red Tractor label does guarantee that the pigs have been raised in the UK, but that is all. Occasionally, when a farm is investigated by an animal welfare charity and exposed for housing pigs in overcrowded, filthy and unhealthy conditions and the farmer is prosecuted, Red Tractor will withdraw accreditation, but for the most part they turn a blind eye, allowing farms to operate below minimum legal welfare standards.

Red Tractor inspects farms once a year, but only one in a thousand inspections are unannounced. When the inspections do occur, illegal tail docking and lack of bedding are simply ignored.

The Solution?

Avoid pork products that only carry the Red Tractor label at any cost. It’s more or less a guarantee that pigs have suffered acutely from close confinement, lack of bedding, overcrowding and stress.

Fortunately, in the UK there are welfare labels that can be trusted to ensure humane conditions for pigs. Any of the following labels on pork packaging will ensure the pigs will have had a better life (even if the Red Tractor logo is also present):

RSPCA Assured’ means that pigs have straw and extra space, cannot be routinely tail docked and cannot be put into narrow steel cages while raising piglets.

Outdoor Bred’ means the mother pigs are outside with huts for shelter for all their lives. The piglets are born outside and brought into straw barns when they are weaned at 21-28 days.

Free Range’ means pigs of all ages have permanent access to outdoor spaces and are free to root and play and exercise naturally.

Organic’ is the highest welfare label, pigs are fed organic feed without GMOs, have permanent access to outdoor spaces, and are slaughtered in approved abattoirs as close as possible to where they were raised.

By only buying from these high welfare labels we can support those humane and healthy farms where pigs are treated with respect for their intelligence, sociability and instincts to root in fresh soil or straw. Red Tractor is a label representing the worst aspects of industrial, indoor intensive farming, and by avoiding it at a small extra cost we can help bring an end to the shameful way pigs are treated in these farms.

Further Information

Labelling Guide Supermarket Guide

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