DAY 394: (penultimate-but-one blog) HOW HAPPY IS YOUR SUPERMARKET?
I find the term ‘happy meat’ fairly tricky.
I tend to imagine pigs smiling on their way to slaughter. All meat, however high-welfare, comes from an animal that you can reasonably assume didn’t want to die. Although suicidal pigs might be possible in the conditions I saw.
But let us for a minute assume that some animals are genuinely happier with their lot than others. “yeh, I love this hay bedding” vs “Nah, I hate shitting on this slatted floor”
It’s fairly reasonable to assume that pigs on open pasture are in a better mental state than those confined on slatted floors with little or no mental stimulation.
I have just trawled through some of Britain’s main supermarket chains looking at the labels on their pig meat and, with some new-found knowledge, am loosely equipped to give a rough assessment of how ‘happy’ the pigs were that ended up on their shelves.
This is what I found:
HAPPY PIG RATING: 4/10 (not great)
* The co-operative are considered ahead of the curve with regards animal welfare as all their own-labelled products coming from outdoor reared sows.
* Out of a whopping 50 different 100% pork products that I found, 24 of these were from foreign companies with no visible certification. One can reasonably assume that these will come from EU farms, many of which may well fall below legal EU limits.
* I also could also not find a SINGLE organic pork product. This means that the vast majority of the pigs that made up the meat in this supermarket had confined lives in intensive systems.
OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 0/10 (F***ING MISERABLE)
* The meat was cold
* I could not find a single pork product with ANY certification or ANY welfare assurances. This was fairly predictable but still hugely depressing. ICELAND are known for their ‘value’ so in a sense represent the worst of a food system that places production before welfare
* Don’t go here if you like pigs.
OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 6/10 (not awful)
* A large amount of British pork that had clear assurances stating their pigs were either outdoor bred or reared indoors on deep bedding. I was pleasantly surprised
* On the fresh meat counter about 60% of the food was ‘RSPCA freedom food’. This means about 20% of the meat has come from farms that have had thorough checks.
* I could find only one organic product
* A lot of foreign meats: Danish bacon, spanish chorizo, italian proscuitto etc had no welfare assurances whatsoever. ‘High end’ foreign meats may look fancy but they are likely to come from EU farms with minimal welfare regulations (or sub legal conditions) unless clearly specified otherwise.
OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 1/10 (awful)
* Not many. Out of a vast range of pig meat I found only three products that indicated being outdoor reared.
* In a vast superstore I could find no free range meats or organic meats
* I found 22 different foreign meats with no certification and some meat from outside the EU
* The ‘Tesco’s Finest Range’ showed the red tractor logo but no indication of the meat being bred or reared outdoors or even being kept on good bedding.
OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 8/10 (good)
* Nearly all their meat was clearly marked as bred-outdoors.
* A small but clear presence of organic and free range meats
* Most meat at their meat counter was free-range
* Crucially, their own label foreign meat was from ‘Waitrose assured’ foreign farms. These farms are unlikely to be as well-monitored as farms in the UK but it does give some assurance.
* A considerable presence of foreign meats from external brands with no welfare labels.
Overall, the various supermarkets fell into an order of welfare in line with their perceived costliness: the ‘posher’ ones (Waitrose, Sainsbury’s) showing high welfare products and the cheaper ones showing less (Iceland, Tesco).
This is a shame because Compassion in World Farming have done a fair amount of research to show that higher welfare needn’t be more expensive – especially when the public is willing to pay for it.
Meat welfare labelling is in dire need of simplification and clarification. I suspect anything more complicated than a bronze, silver, gold system will risk confusing a public that is already overwhelmed with choice.
It took me the best part of half a day trying to understand the various labels and terminology – outdoor reared vs outdoor bred, indoor reared with deep hay, red tractor and so on – it was still NOT EASY to understand just how ‘happy’ our pork is.
Entirely unlabelled meat is generally a bad sign from a welfare point of view – although each supermarket has it’s own stance on welfare that isn’t always obvious to the shopper.
And what about live exports? There is no label to indicate just how far your meat has travelled.
The question is – what needs to be done?
There probably needs to be a two pronged attack – more consumer awareness about animal welfare issues and much clearer and more effective labelling. Once demand for higher welfare products increases, the price can go up and farmers will be incentivised.
In the meantime, if you insist on eating pork but want your pigs ‘happier’ then…
1) Eat only organic
2) Buy British
3) Eat less of it.