Oct 21 2013


    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


    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?



    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.



    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.


    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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    As we were driving the gazillion miles back to Barcelona I asked Alberto what the chances are that live exports will measurably improve in the near future.

    Will pigs suffer less?

    ‘It’s hard to see how it will get better. ‘ said Alberto to my dismay ‘On the one hand, I doubt there is a single European commissioner who thinks that long transport journeys are a good thing. But an 8 hour limit on transport is probably unrealistic. The economic structures are too entrenched. Countries rely on exports and imports’

    I was astonished that these two were so committed to doing so much – but essentially so little- to fight what they admitted was a largely unstoppable wave of misery.

    But then they said something else, almost as an aside:,‘Labelling would make a big difference.’




    Yes, labelling…

    It sounded a desperately dull topic. Who gives a rat’s arse about labelling? (As long as the rat in question is organic, outdoor bred and fed on corn)

    ‘If the consumer knew about this’ continued Alberto ‘and could make a choice not to eat meat that was associated with long distance transport then maybe the big supermarket chains might listen too. The supermarkets have more power than government or EU policies’

    Apparently this is true. A meat-eating, puppy-beating, middle manager at tesco could probably save more pigs than I could in a lifetime.

    But as a consumer, you and I have real power

    Do we? Really?

    How on earth am I meant to vote with my eggs? Take them to the ballot box and spoil my paper? Throw them at David Cameron’s face while he is on TV?


    The golden egg

    Eggs are often held up as the gold standard of how labeling can improve welfare. The ‘free range’ label is clear to understand, the concept of getting chickens out of dirty cages is appealing too all but the most sadistic and the extra cost bearable. The result is that the farmers are given enough economic incentive to get their chickens outdoors even if they don’t personally care about welfare.

    The result? Chickens can flap their wings.


    So can something similar be done to help improve the long distance transport of pigs?

    ‘It’s not quite as simple for pigs’ said Julia.

    She explained that there are many factors involved – some are born outdoors but then reared indoors, some are transported short distances, some longer. Explaining the various benefits in a clear labeling system is complicated – although not impossible.

    The problem is that if consumers don’t KNOW about pig transport issues then they won’t care about a label telling them about it. And if people don’t care the supermarkets won’t make the label. And if the supermarkets don’t make a label the farmers won’t be incentivized to send their pigs on shorter journeys.

    After all this travelling these are all the animals I failed to save...right on my doorstep

    After all this travelling these are all the animals I failed to save…right on my doorstep

    A depressing homecoming

    I have decided to end my year in the aisles of British supermarkets to see what is really going on and what can be improved.

    From the wilds of Laos and the plains of India this seems a depressing and yet fitting return to home soil. If farming is the greatest cause of suffering to animals on this planet (in terms of numbers) then it is in the aisles of Tesco or Waitrose that we need to understand how our choices can go someway to alleviating that suffering.

    I very much want to show you all – whether you are skeptical or already a hard core vegan – how the story I have told of pigs in Spain (and then on to Italy) has a direct relation with the meat we see on our shelves in Britain and how, if we decide to continue eating meat, we can make positive choices.

    How much meat in British supermarkets has been raised in intensive systems similar to what I saw in Spain?

    What sort of labels do exist on pig meat and what do they mean?

    Does buying organic really mean I get a happier bit of meat?

    Which supermarkets contain the most stored suffering?

    What’s that RED TRACTOR all about?

    How much pork in the UK comes from Spain or Italy or beyond?

    How good are UK pig farms anyway?

    And of course, what I tell you about pigs, can within reason be extended to the story of cows, chicken, sheep and lamb. I just don’t have the space – or strength – to look at them all.

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    Aug 23 2013

    FACT ONE - Did you know I didn't actually do this drawing but took it off the internet?

    Ha! I’ve got some fun posts – and some not so fun posts – about pigs lined up.

    BUT FIRST… I want to get in touch with the PIG inside me. My immediate mission – before I head to intensive farms – is to relate to pigs as individuals. This feels curious to say the least.  

    But why should we care about pigs if we don’t know them?

    Ever hung out with a pig?  Ever seen a pig grieve or get really, really excited? Ever seen a pig suffering from mild irritation or vague indignation?

    No, nor have I.

    Which might explain why I’d be so horrified to eat a dog burger but not be worried by a bacon baguette. Emotional understanding is the doorway into the house of compassion where they serve tofu burgers – or something like that.

    I’ve just come back from visiting a couple of pet pigs in Fulham where I took them out for a walk in the park with the intention of  JUST BEING… and it all went a bit wrong.  I’ll post about that next but first I want to write some super fast facts about pigs. You too have a pig nature…




    Pigs are ranked number 4 behind elephants, dolphins, and chimps. According to Professor Donald Broom of the Cambridge University Veterinary School, “[Pigs] have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than human] 3-year-olds.” Like dogs, pigs can easily be housebroken, taught to fetch and come to heel. They can learn to dance, race and pull carts. They can even be taught to play video games, pushing the joystick with their snouts – something that even chimps struggle to master. In the 18th and 19th century various ‘learned pigs’ dressed in natty waistcoasts, travelled through Europe amazing audiences by kneeling, bowing, spelling names in cards and ‘mind reading’.





    According to research cited by PETA, pigs snuggle close to one another and prefer to sleep nose to nose. They dream, much as humans do. In their natural surroundings, pigs spend hours playing, sunbathing, and exploring. People who run animal sanctuaries for farmed animals often report that pigs, like humans, enjoy listening to music, playing with soccer balls, and getting massages





    In his book The Whole Hog, biologist and Johannesburg Zoo director Lyall Watson writes, “I know of no other animals [who] are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open mouthed enthusiasm. Pigs, I have discovered, are incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being.” Pigs have a tremendous sense of smell. The large round disk of cartilage at the tip of the snout is connected to muscle that gives it extra flexibility and strength for rooting in the ground. Their snout is their most essential point of interaction with the world around them.




    A pig’s orgasm lasts 30 minutes. Yeeeha! Tickle my pork sausage and let’s make some bacon. (As the vicar said to the actress(who was dressed as a pig))





    Did you know a pig can run a 7-minute mile?





    Pigs may oink in English but in French they go “groin, groin”, in Polish they go “chrum, chrum”, and in Mandarin Chinese, they go “Hu-lu, hu-lu”. They don’t speak German however.





    Pigs prefer cleanliness much more than other animals. They use  mud only as a coolant in summers, that too out of necessity. Mud also provides the pigs protection against flies and parasites, apart from being used as a form of sunscreen, which protects their skin from sunburn. Unlike festival goers they keep their toilet area a long way from where they eat and rest and try and stay clean.





    Piggy banks get their name from a clay called pygg from which jars were made for saving money. Keeping a couple of domestic pigs only costs about 1USD to feed a day – if you give it really good food.





    In 2007, Disney’s Three Little Pigs was chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Babe was a good actor too. Kevin Bacon is also a good actor.





    Pork is the world’s most popular meat, 85 million tonnes are consumed annually – a third more than beef or chicken (although more chicken are killed in number). The pig is the last of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. The pig is seen to represent, fortune, honesty, happiness and virility. Around half of the 1 billion pigs eaten a year on planet earth are killed in China.


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