• DAY 394: (penultimate-but-one blog) HOW HAPPY IS YOUR SUPERMARKET?

    Oct 24 2013

    happy meat

    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:

    coop

    THE CO-OPERATIVE

    HAPPY PIG RATING: 4/10 (not great)

    IMG_7882

    The Co-op had a lot of foreign meats from external brands with no welfare labellng. In these circumstances its reasonable to assume such meat came from the most basic EU farms (which may well be ignoring current EU minimum welfare regs)

    POSITIVES:

    * The co-operative are considered ahead of the curve with regards animal welfare as all their own-labelled products coming from outdoor reared sows.

    NEGATIVES:

    * 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.

     

    BHEM41 / Iceland

    ICELAND

    OVERALL HAPPY PIG  RATING: 0/10 (F***ING MISERABLE)

    SCARY but typical of Iceland. For this much money you wonder either how much meat is in the product and how good the welfare standards are - not much of either: no labels in sight

    SCARY but typical of Iceland. For this much money you wonder either how much meat is in the product and how good the welfare standards are – not much of either: no labels in sight

    Nice packaging but how posh are the rearing standards. Not a welfare label in sight

    Nice packaging but how posh are the rearing standards for the pigs that made up this dish. Not a welfare label in sight

    POSITIVES:

    * The meat was cold

    NEGATIVES:

    * 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.

     

    isainsburys_1618734c

    SAINSBURY’S SUPERSTORE

    OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 6/10 (not awful)

    A lot of clearly labelled outdoor bred pork

    A lot of clearly labelled outdoor bred pork

    POSITIVES:

    * 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.

    NEGATIVES:

    * 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.

     

    Tesco08_from_DanJones.jpg

    TESCO SUPERSTORE

    OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 1/10 (awful)

    Tesco's so-called "finest" had no welfare assurance than the red tractor which says very little: intensive pigs in minimal conditions

    Tesco’s so-called “finest” had no welfare assurance than the red tractor which says very little: intensive pigs in minimal conditions

    IMG_7980

    Tesco are reportedly proud of their welfare standards. I didn't see an awful lot on the labels.

    Tesco are reportedly proud of their welfare standards. I didn’t see an awful lot on the labels.

    POSITIVES:

    * Not many. Out of a vast range of pig meat I found only three products that indicated being outdoor reared.

    NEGATIVES

    * 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.

     

     

    iwaitrose

    WAITROSE

    OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 8/10 (good)

    Waitrose has a lot of free-range meats, clearly labelled.

    Waitrose has a lot of free-range meats, clearly labelled.

     

    Duchy Originals has the highest organic accreditation

    Duchy Originals has the highest organic accreditation from the soil association

    Even their foreign meats has some assurance on it.

    Even their foreign meats have some assurance on it.

    But even Waitrose had some seriously dodgy looking foreign meats with no welfare assurance at all. AVOID.

    But even Waitrose had some seriously dodgy looking foreign meats with no welfare assurance at all. AVOID.

    POSITIVES:

    * 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.

    NEGATIVES:

    * A considerable presence of foreign meats from external brands with no welfare labels.

     

    CONCLUSIONS

    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.

     

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  • DAY 392: WHAT DO THE LABELS ON MEAT ACTUALLY MEAN?

    Oct 21 2013
    Murder

    Murder

    For the last few days I have been on a juice-only detox to shave off the pounds before my US wedding next week to Ann (we got married in the UK but are having our celebration next week – I’m not allowed to be saving frogs or pigs as the confetti falls so this blog must end then).

    The diet is a massively upsetting endeavor which involves drinking green slime.

    ‘At least I’m being vegan’ I said to Ann

    ‘You are not vegan. You just aren’t eating anything’

    I take her point.

    The meat-eater is also not a vegetarian when they put their hamburger down to eat their chips. But at least they are temporarily abstaining.

    But I have decided, therefore, after I drink the last green slime, to be a proper vegan.

    With a heavy heart I can tell you that this decision has not come as naturally to me as being vegetarian but I feel I must at least try. Am I doing what is expected of me for the sake of this blog? I had hoped I would be throwing cheese at right wing politicians by now but I am simply not as angry about dairy as I ought to be.

    Perhaps I still have some connections to make in my own heart.

    happy pigs

    PORK HAPPINESS

    Nevertheless I’m lightheaded and vaguely angry about not eating. Which is the perfect mood with which to trawl the great British supermarkets looking at the labels on pork meat.

    I will be going to a cross section of great british supermarkets and assessing PORK HAPPINESS.

    This is not a strictly scientific measure (for that you need to ask pigs how they are feeling) rather it will be an overview of how much silent pain you might expect in each supermarket meat shelf based on the welfare quality of their products.

    But it’s a fairly accurate assessment nonetheless. I’ve been reading up a lot about pork labels and speaking to Compassion in World Farming, the absolute experts, to get all the info so you don’t have to.

    The supermarkets I’m going to are:

    WAITROSE – posh but expensive.

    SAINSBURY’S – middle class but bearable

    CO-OP – sort of in the middle??? Who knows, who cares.

    ICELAND – rubbish and cold. Full of mad old women with trolleys

    TESCO – the everyman’s behemoth that loves cheap chicken. Will sell your house as well as your soul.

    And what do the labels mean?

    I’ll be going into much more detail in my book about this but the essential information goes a little like this

     

    Highest welfare to lowest – what labels measure of happiness?

    organic-logo

    Organic

    the gold standard, with ‘soil association’ being the best.

    Although it doesn’t necessarily follow that using good fertilizer means the pigs are happy on the whole there is a reliable connection between  meat labelled ‘organic’ and happy(ier) animals. If you must eat pig ALWAYS AND ONLY buy organic. Please.

    Free range

    the term ‘free range’ is not a legally binding definition as it is with chickens but it does denote a reliable agreement between farmers and supermarkets indicating that the pigs live outdoor, although not necessarily on rich pasture

    Outdoor bred

    The pigs are bred outdoors as opposed to in farrowing crates but then revert to being intensively reared, indoors. It’s something but not an awful lot.

    Indoor reared

    This is what I saw in Spain: intensive and not very happy. Some labels may indicate the use of deep bedding and straw. You should look for this as a minimum if you are buying indoor reared food.

     

    WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? IT LOOKS LIKE A CHILD'S TRACTOR??

    Red tractor

    This is the lowest assurance of all. Means little except that the farm is (probably) complying with the most basic EU laws, the pigs are not castrated and that some tractors are….er… red. It seems a bit like being given a losers prize for turning up to the race and falling over your laces at the start. Even though some higher welfare meat (like Organic Duchy Orginials) will have this label as well as their orgnic labels it’s not something to be impressed by. And if meat doesn’t have this label (or any other) and doesn’t come from a reputable shop you might want to see if it glows in the dark or is still writhing in the pack.

    Freedom_Food_Logo-336x236

    The RSPCA freedom food sticker – this can be applied to both indoors and outdoor reared meats. It gives a welfare approval rather than denoting a particular system of rearing. Indoor reared meat with RSPCA approval may mean the pigs are in better conditions than free range meat without it. Worth looking out for.

     

    Can we trust labels at all?

    From what I have read and the experts I have spoken to, the labeling system on pig meat is meaningful and on the whole honest if not bound in EU law.

    And yet a while back a reader on this blog pointed out a video  that showed appalling conditions on an ‘RSPCA freedom food approved’ farm of pigs covered in much and unable to walk.

    How does this square up?

    If you are generous it  means that the RSPCA can’t check every farm. They check about 1 in 3 unannounced which within the industry is very high but which is, in some instances, clearly not good enough. If you are not generous it means the RSPCA don’t care. Your call. But you might want to take labeling – as well as your bacon – with a pinch of salt even if on the whole it has good intentions.

    Who wins gold for happiest pigs?

    Who wins gold for happiest pigs?

    A simpler system?

    I asked Compassion in World Farming why the system could not be simplified. Surely it would make more sense to have three lables, like GOLD, SILVER, BRONZE, which denoted how happy the pigs were and avoided the consumer needing a PhD in pig welfare.

    They agreed this made sense but pointed out it required huge organisation and a large drive from the consumer. Perhaps it would come.

    And what would count as Gold and silver and bronze? I asked.

    ‘The obvious answer is that organic would be gold, free range silver, and indoor rearing with straw bedding and no castration would be bronze. But we would like gold to be something higher than the current standard organic level. An aspirational level that has not yet been achieved. There are always improvements to be made’

    Routine tail docking is illegal in the EU and yet still prevalent in both the UK and abroad. It is one of the main 'props' of intensive pig production. Without it, frustrated pigs would bite of each other's tails and farmers would be forced to provide more stimulating environments.

    Routine tail docking is illegal in the EU and yet still prevalent in both the UK and abroad. It is one of the main ‘props’ of intensive pig production. Without it, frustrated pigs would bite of each other’s tails and farmers would be forced to provide more stimulating environments.

    Always buy British?

    Compassion in World Farming  recently  published a shocking report on the state of EU farms.  Of 45 intensive pig farms visited from 9 EU member countries 44 were seriously flouting EU welfare regulations including the use of routine tail docking and lack of appropriate bedding and enrichment material

    This means that EVERY SINGLE pig farm that I visited in Spain, all of which had no straw bedding or any enrichment were breaking the EU law.

    This is very telling because the key reason that pigs bite each others tails  is because of intense frustration and lack of stimulation. If farmers were forced to avoid routine tail docking they would have to provide higher welfare to stop the biting.

    Looks good, tastes good, smells of pain

    Looks good, tastes good, smells of pain

    This should put you off  buying meat from an EU country without an organic label or other assurance – that means Parma Ham in fancy packing is out, expensive chorizo from spain is out (unless Iberico pork), cheap Danish bacon is out, cheap frankfurters are out.

    But what about good old British pork? Can we hold our head up any higher?

    While the conditions in British pig farms are somewhat better than in most other EU countries (we have totally banned sow stalls whereas in the EU they are allowed for limited use) in 2008 CIWF found that over half of intensive British pig farms that they visited undercover had a prevalence of tail docking and over a third had no, or ineffective, enrichment.

    This is all rather depressing isn’t it?

    The simple answer is ONLY buy organic – and if your sandwich has pork in it with no label don’t buy it. The simpler answer still is don’t buy pig meat at all.

    In the next blog: what I found in the supermarkets.

     

     

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