Pork at Christmas? Make sure it's from a happy pig!

| 22nd December 2014
What we want: happy free range pigs on the Sandy Lane Organic Farm, Oxfordshire.
What we want: happy free range pigs on the Sandy Lane Organic Farm, Oxfordshire.

What we want: happy free range pigs last month at Sandy Lane Organic Farm, Oxfordshire. Photo: Sandy Lane Farm via Facebook.

As families across the country stock up on food for Christmas feasting, Giulia Barcaro urges them to give a thought to animal welfare - read the label to discover whether the meat you're buying comes from high-welfare farms, or has condemned a sentient creature to a life of suffering.
Look for pork labelled Freedom Food, Outdoor Bred, Free Range or best of all Organic, and stand up for pig welfare and the centuries-old, magnificent British landscapes and rural heritage.

If books and newspapers are facing crisis, may we suggest a different type of reading: short, daily, tasty, and politically active? 

Fifty years ago, where to buy meat was not a question at all as most of it came from markets or small shops. Today choices have multiplied, and so has the packaging. Studies show that children select cereals because of the cartoons on the boxes, not because of the taste. 

It's not so different for adults. Have you ever found yourself in front of a supermarket meat section, unsure of what to choose? There are many labels describing the method of production, but what do they mean?

"Um, let's see. That chicken is so cheap that it's quite scary. That beef label is green, so is it organic? That pork says it is British, does that mean it has been ethically raised? How can I support local farmers?"

Supporting humane, sustainable farming 

In the UK three quarters of the pork we eat is produced in animal factories that stuff animals with antibiotics, disregard basic animal welfare laws, sicken the local population with stench and contaminate local watercourses.

In a world where the bond between regulators and the corporations they are supposed to regulate is so close, waiting for a strong political intervention to ban animal factories may be a little time-wasting.

But consumers' power is often underestimated. In 1998, when Shell decided to dispose of the Brent Spar Platform at sea, Greenpeace called for a general boycott and Shell lost 30% of their daily profits in Germany. And guess what? Shell decided to dismantle the platform on land as requested.

The 2013 'horse meat' scandal caused frozen burger sales to tumble 41% compared to the previous year, according to the BBC.

What to look for: Organic, Free Range, Outdoor Bred, Freedom Food

Many products have disappeared from the market or have been significantly reduced purely out of consumers' disdain. Eggs from caged hens have become less common, for example.

So what about the on-going scandal of pigs in animal factories? People are often inactive because they underestimate the effect of their choices, but if we all act together we could bring an end to this industrial, inhumane system. If there's no welfare label on the pork, don't buy it, it's that easy.

Today, choosing what you buy is a stronger statement that voting in an election. The UK supermarket labelling system is not perfect but it does allow us to choose meat that has been raised in systems that are sustainable because the pigs are healthy and do not require routine antibiotics.

Look for pork labelled Freedom Food, Outdoor Bred, Free Range or best of all Organic, and stand up for pig welfare, and the centuries-old, magnificent British landscapes and rural heritage.

There are other labels too - but these may not mean all you expect them to. So look here for a full rundown of all the labels you might find in UK supermarkets, and the production methods they describe. (Summary below)

Look for pork labelled Freedom Food, Outdoor Bred, Free Range or best of all Organic, and stand up for pig welfare and the centuries-old, magnificent British landscapes and rural heritage.

Choose pork raised on real farms 

And just to remind yourself of why it's so important, please watch and share Tracy Worcester's campaign and 3-minute video 'Take the Pig Pledge to buy meat from Farms Not Factories' (embed below).

It asks people to join a worldwide movement to boycott pork from animal factories - and instead to buy high welfare from supermarkets, butchers, farmers' markets or online, and in restaurants to ask for pork that has been raised on a high welfare farm.


Choosing high welfare pork on supermarket shelves says "no, thanks" (as politely as you may wish) to those animal factories that abuse animals by overcrowding them often on bare concrete slats, over-use antibiotics causing more and more diseases to become resistant, and bankrupt high welfare farmers that have been feeding us for generations. 

When you go out for dinner, ask the waiter where the meat comes from. You're paying for the meal and you have a right to know.

And the Farms Not Factories high welfare pork directory shows you where to find high welfare pork from farms, shops & restaurants that you can trust.

What really happens when you pick the right label?

Buying pork from high welfare production methods ensures that the animals have not been mistreated. It also means that you are paying a fair price and that your money supports humane, sustainable farming, thus helping to preserve real farming skills and vibrant rural communities. 

Yes, it really is that easy. It's time for a new generation of label readers to lead the way - and make real farming a best seller.



Giulia Barcaro is creative director at Farms not Factories.

Check out: Worldwide high welfare pork directory.


Labels summary from Pig Pledge


sa_organic_black_t starpic5

  • Sows and piglets have access to the outdoors all their lives
  • No genetically modified feed
  • Antibiotics rarely used

Organic pigs are kept in conditions that, as far as possible, allow them to express their natural behaviour. This includes being kept in family groups with free access to fields when conditions allow. In practice this means that most organic pigs will be outdoors all year round, though indoor housing is permitted in severe weather conditions, provided that there is plenty of straw bedding for the pigs, and continued access to an outdoor run. As well as the Soil Association Organic Standard, there are ten other approved UK organic certification bodies.Further information

Free range

Label-freerange starpic4

  • Sows and piglets have access to outdoor space all their lives
  • Antibiotics rarely used

These pigs are born outside, in fields and they remain outside until they are sent for slaughter. They are provided with food, water and shelter and are free to roam within defined boundaries. Free range pigs have very generous minimum space allowances, which are worked out according to the soil conditions and rotation practices of the farm. Breeding sows are also kept outside, in fields for their productive life.Further information

Outdoor bred

Label-outdoor starpic3

  • Sows have access to the outdoors all their lives
  • Piglets brought indoors for fattening after 4 weeks, usually with straw or other bedding
  • Less use of antibiotics

These pigs are born outside, in fields where they are kept until weaning (normally around 4 weeks) and moved indoors. Breeding sows are kept outside in fields for their productive lives. The pigs are provided with food, water and shelter with generous minimum space allowances. 'Outdoor reared' is a similar system, but the piglets usually have access to the outdoors for up to 10 weeks before being moved indoors.Further information

Freedom Food

label-freedomfoodwhite starpic2

  • Indoor pigs must have bedding
  • No farrowing crates
  • Limited tail docking
  • Routine antibiotics on some farms

Freedom Food is the RSPCA's labelling and assurance scheme dedicated to improving welfare standards for farm animals. About 30% of pigs reared in the UK are reared under this label. Freedom Food assesses farms to the RSPCA's strict welfare standards and if they meet every standard they can use the Freedom Food label on their product. The scheme covers both indoor and outdoor rearing systems and ensures that greater space and bedding material are provided.

For more information visit: www.freedomfood.co.uk

Further information

Red Tractor

redtractor 1star-redtractor

  • Lowest legal UK standards
  • Farrowing crates allowed
  • Pigs often indoors on bare concrete with no straw
  • Tail docking widespread
  • Routine antibiotics on some farms.

The Red Tractor Assured Food Standards scheme only assures UK consumers that meat products comply with UK minimum legal requirements. 80% of British pork farms unite under this label, so although the scheme will include farms using a wide range of production methods, the label is in no way a guarantee of good animal welfare and allows intensive production. In 2012, advertisements falsely claiming that British pork sold with the Red Tractor label were "high welfare" had to be banned after several complaints. The Red Tractor logo used in conjunction with a Union Jack only guarantees that the pork is British.

For more information visit: www.redtractor.org.uk

Further information

No welfare label

label-nolabel 0star-nowelfarelabel

  • Mostly imported, often raised below UK welfare standards
  • Farrowing crates allowed
  • EU sow stall limits often ignored
  • Most pigs confined indoors on bare concrete with no straw
  • Illegal tail docking widespread
  • Widespread routine over-use of antibiotics



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