UK: Red Tractor campaign ad ban

A campaign for the Red Tractor food scheme has been banned after misleading consumers about the “high welfare” of pigs in the UK, a watchdog said. Ads for the scheme read: “Pork not porkies. Red Tractor pork is high welfare pork.” But Compassion in World Farming complained the claim was misleading and unsubstantiated.

The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which worded the campaign, said it believed consumers would understand Red Tractor pork was high welfare compared to pork from other EU countries, but it understood that EU legislation prevented it from making a direct comparison with imported products.

It said the Red Tractor scheme was the only one to provide welfare assurance for the entire production chain, with farms subject to rigorous annual inspections, random spot checks and quarterly veterinary welfare audits.

The AHDB said Red Tractor standards did not permit pig castration, used to rear pigs to heavier slaughter weight, and UK law banned the use of sow stalls, which kept sows separated from other pigs during their pregnancy but also prevented the animal from turning around.

However it said that farrowing crates, which also confined the sow, were permitted on Red Tractor farms to prevent piglets being crushed by other pigs.

It believed that Red Tractor standards covering farming practices such as tail docking and teeth clipping went beyond EU legislation.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it accepted that the quality of pig welfare in the UK was high in comparison with the welfare of pigs in many European countries.

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However, it also understood that some aspects of pig farming in the UK, such as farrowing crates, tail-docking and tooth clipping, while better than in some EU countries, were nonetheless still contentious issues.

It said: “Because it was unclear that the claim “Red Tractor pork is high welfare pork” was a comparative claim with imported pork, it would be understood to be a claim about the general level of pig welfare in the UK.

“We considered that the claim implied that there were no concerns about the welfare of pigs in the UK, whereas some areas were unlikely to be regarded as ‘high’ welfare. We therefore concluded that the claim was misleading.”

It ruled that the ads must not appear again in their current form and told the AHDB to ensure that the basis of comparative claims was made clear in the future.

CIWF spokeswoman Joyce D’Silva said: “This is a victory for consumers, who deserve to be able to choose higher welfare meat without being misled. Claims of high welfare are clearly a lucrative marketing tool but in this case they were overblown and misleading to the consumer.

“This is also a victory for those pig farmers in the UK who adhere to higher welfare standards like the Soil Association’s organic standard or the RSPCA’s Freedom Food.

“An estimated 80% of British pigs are reared within the Red Tractor scheme. While some will be higher welfare, many will inevitably be kept in crowded barren pens, some on slatted floors without straw or proper enrichment material. They will be unable to carry out key natural behaviours and many will have their tails docked.”

Red Tractor said: “We are pleased that the ASA ruling accepts that Red Tractor pork is produced to higher standards than the EU legislation that underpins pork production in the rest of Europe, but we are slightly disappointed that the ASA felt that this obvious point of reference should have been made more explicit in the adverts.

“The fact is that much of the imported pork that we see on shelves is produced in systems that would be illegal in the UK, let alone below Red Tractor standards.”

Bpex director Mick Sloyan said: “We accept the opinion of the ASA regarding this small technicality. We will continue to promote the independently audited standards behind Red Tractor pork and pork products, including welfare, in a way that is absolutely clear to consumers.”