Can a label make pork “humane”?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2009:
LONDON–Two pork industry fronts, the
British Pig Executive and the National Pig
Association, may not advertise that “British pig
farms have very high welfare standards, assured
by the Quality Standard Mark,” the Advertising
Standards Authority ruled on February 11, 2009.
Pending revision of the BPEx and NPA ads,
the ruling interrupted a two-year promotion
featuring television chef Jamie Oliver. The
Advertising Standards Authority passed no
judgement as to the value of the Quality Standard
Mark used by BPEx and the NPA, but only about a
third of the pigs raised in Britain are raised
according to the requirements of the program.

Oliver in a January broadcast entitled
Jamie Saves Our Bacon joined the Royal SPCA in
asking the European Union to “set tougher minimum
welfare standards for farmers and legislate more
honest labelling about how animals are reared,”
wrote James Meikle of The Guardian. “Britain is
only about 25% self-sufficient in bacon and 70%
in pork,” Meikle noted, “meaning it imports
large quantities of pig meat, which farmers in
the U.K. complain comes from animals generally
raised in worse and more intensive indoor
conditions, including in much of the E.U.”
But RSPCA spokesperson Julia Wrathall
told Meikle that “a significant number” of the
nine million pigs per year who are raised and
slaughtered in the U.K. also “live out their
lives in unacceptable conditions.”
The Advertising Standards Authority has
often ruled against animal advocacy claims.
Between December 2005 and August 2006 the ASA
upheld complaints against Europeans for Medical
Progress, the National Anti-Vivisection Society
(of Britain), PETA, and the RSPCA.
The ASA ruling this time, however, hit
the British pig industry hard, at a vulnerable
time, coming less than a month after a
multi-party Parliamentary report “found that the
U.K. pig herd had declined by 40% since 1997,”
summarized BBC News. The report asserted that
British welfare standards are largely to blame
for recent losses estimated by BPEx as £7 per pig
“The EU plans to implement by 2013 a ban
on the use of stalls and tethers similar to that
imposed in the U.K. a decade ago,” BBC News
continued. “Unlike their British rivals,
farmers in countries like Denmark and the
Netherlands will receive state support to make
the changes.”
Meanwhile, the Parliamentary
En-vironment, Food, & Rural Affairs Committee
“found that currently up to 66% of imported pig
meat could have been reared using these
restrictive methods,” BBC News said.
The Parliamentary report was released
four days before Danny Penman of The Daily Mail
published his findings from an undercover
investigation of the Polish pig industry,
focusing on facilities operated by the U.S.-based
Smithfield conglomerate and the Smithfield
subsidiary Agri Plus.
“There is no suggestion that any of the
farms I visited were behaving illegally under
Polish or European law,” wrote Penman, despite
the deplorable conditions he observed. “They
were, however, producing pig meat under
conditions that would be questionable in the U.K.
“Ten years ago our government mercifully
outlawed some of the worst aspects of factory pig
farming,” Penman explained. “Farmers were
banned from castrating their animals without
anaesthetic and prevented from routinely clipping
their teeth and amputating their tails. Sow
stalls were also banned. These new rules had one
major flaw: they applied only to the U.K. This
left supermarkets free to buy cheaper, less
humane pork from Europe. To make matters worse,
the E.U. and other European institutions soon
started pouring subsidies into Poland and Romania
to create the type of industrial pig farming now
banned in the U.K.”
About 20% of British shoppers told the
Shopper Trends 2009 survey, published in
January, that they consider animal welfare to be
a key factor in making product choices, up from
13% in 2008. The percentage who take animal
welfare into account increased to 46%, from 38%
in 2008.
However, just trying to buy British
pork, explained Penman, would not ensure that
British standards were met. “In a bizarre piece
of labelling legislation,” wrote Penman,
“retailers are entitled to call a meat product
‘British’ even the meat is sourced from abroad.
As long as the end product has been processed and
packed in the U.K, it can be labelled ‘British.’
In this way, foreign pork has increasingly come
to dominate the market.”
The E.U. has yet to legislatively address
all of the welfare issues covered in the 1998
British farm animal welfare law, but the Dutch
animal welfare inspection organization Eyes On
Animals in December 2008 reported that four Dutch
supermarket chains are “finalizing plans to rid
their shelves of meat from castrated male pigs,”
after the advocacy organization Varkens in Nood
in April 2008 “threatened to take them to court
for causing unnecessary suffering.”
A variety of competing product labeling
schemes purport to assure U.S. consumers that
pigs have been raised and killed “humanely,”
including at least five sponsored by animal
welfare groups and two sponsored by pig industry
fronts. The newest U.S. labeling scheme was
announced on February 11, 2009 by Niman Ranch
Inc., whose pig products were formerly certified
by the Animal Welfare Institute.

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