Firstly, hands up if you eat pork. Ok, that’s pretty much everyone. Now put up your hand if you go to the effort of finding out where that pork came from, or how the pig lived? Didn’t think so. I’m supporting a new RSPCA campaign called “Rooting For Pigs” and I’d like you to do the same; read on to find out why.
You may or may not have watched the recent Jamie Oliver program “Jamie Saves Our Bacon“, which was part of Channel 4’s “Food Fight” season. If you did, you’re probably now aware of some of the appalling conditions that pigs are subject to. If you didn’t, you’re in for a shock. Either way, I would like you to read on and consider giving your support to the campaign.
All pigs are descendants of the Wild Boar – social animals that like to run around in forests rooting for vegetables; of course modern famed pigs bear little resemblence to their wild cousins, but all still maintain this natural instinct. Pigs are also considered to be the most intelligent of all commonly farmed animals, more so than most pets, such as dogs. Please keep this in mind as you read on.
Some concerning facts about pig welfare:
- The UK has higher minimum standards for rearing pigs than the rest of Europe, but imports over half it’s pork. Solution? If you’re in the UK, buy British.
- 80% of male piglets in the EU are castrated without anaesthetic (would you consider doing this to your pet?).
- In most farming systems pigs are unable to carry out their natural behaviour of rooting. This is due to inadequate legislation.
- Many pigs are kept in confined cages, unable to even turn around (remember “Chicken Out!“?)
I’m going to stop there, but the poor conditions of our pigs doesn’t. In a similar way to chickens, there are a variety of different conditions that pigs can be kept in, such as Free Range, Outdoor Bred, and Outdoor Reared. In theory this should mean that consumers can make an informed decision, IF the packets are clearly labelled. But even these terms are open to ambiguety (definitions quoted from the RSPCA):
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.
Similarly, imported pig products from production systems that do not conform to UK law and/or common practice are sold alongside UK products in many stores.
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.
In short, we do have a choice, but we need to be given enough information to make the decision in the first place. The campaign aims of “Rooting For Pigs” sum it up pretty nicely:
- clear and consistent labelling on pork products
- a better law to protect pig welfare.