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Guide to Pork Labels

Guide to Pork Labels

The message is simple; use the power of your purse to buy from real farms, not animal factories.

You can buy pork with high animal welfare labels in the supermarket, so look for Outdoor Bred, RSPCA Assured, Free Range or best of all Organic. Pork with these labels has been raised on high welfare farms, almost certainly in the UK. You can also ask for high welfare at your local butcher, or better still shop at your local farmers’ market, find high welfare online, or join a box scheme. If you’re eating out, ask if the meat is from a high welfare farm.

Common supermarket labels

  • Organic

    Organic

    Organic pigs are kept in conditions that, as far as possible, allow them to express their natural behaviour. The use of the European Union Organic logo featured above, is mandatory for all pre-packaged organic products that have been produced in any EU Member State. The Soil Association Organic Standard is one of only a few schemes that chooses to “set it’s standards even higher than the EU organic standard”. In total, there are 6 organic certification bodies that cover pork products. Here are all the possible logos to look out for:

    organicSoil Association Organic labelOFG-organic-logowelsh-organic-logoOFF-organic-logolabel-IOFGA

  • Free range

    Free range

    Free range 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. There is no official logo for free range, so look for the words ‘free range‘ on the packaging, like these examples:

    packaging-freerange1
    packaging-freerange2

  • RSPCA Assured

    RSPCA Assured

    RSPCA Assured‘ 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. The RSPCA assesses farms to strict welfare standards and if they meet every standard they can use the RSPCA Assured label on their product. The scheme covers both indoor and outdoor rearing systems and ensures that greater space and bedding material are provided. Look for the ‘RSPCA Assured logo‘ featured above. Examples below:

    packaging-rspca2
    packaging-rspca1

  • Outdoor bred

    Outdoor bred

    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. There is no official logo for outdoor bred, so look for the words ‘outoor bred‘ on the packaging, like these examples:

    packaging-outdoor2
    packaging-outdoor1

  • Red Tractor

    Red Tractor

    The Red Tractor Assured Food Standards scheme only assures UK consumers that meat products comply with UK minimum legal requirements. It is not a guarantee of good animal welfare and allows intensive production. The Red Tractor logo (featured above) used in conjunction with a Union Jack only guarantees that the pork is British. In 2012, advertisements falsely claiming that British pork sold with the Red Tractor label were “high welfare” were banned by the ASA due to being misleading.

  • No welfare label

    No welfare label

    If there is no welfare label, don’t buy it. Pork with no welfare label will have almost certainly have come from a factory farm. These pigs will have been crammed into unhealthy & overcrowded sheds. The lack of space & bedding means that the animals suffer stress and disease, are prone to tail biting and have to be routinely given antibiotics, just to keep them alive.

Welfare Comparison Chart

SA Organicsa_organic_black5-starsEU Organiceu_organic5-starsFree rangeLabel-freerange4-starsRSPCA AssuredRSPCA assured3-starsOutdoor bredLabel-outdoor3-starsRed Tractorlabel-redtractor-o2-starsNo labellabel-nolabel0-stars
Housing
labelling-housing
Pigs can roam freely between outdoors and shelterPigs can roam freely between outdoors and shelter. Fattening pigs may be housed for final 20% lifetime (for a maximum period of 3 months) Pigs can roam freely between outdoors and shelter Pigs may be kept permanently indoors but with enhanced space allowances. Fully slatted floors not permitted Sows can roam between outdoors and shelter. Piglets are fattened indoors after weaning Pigs often kept permanently indoors on bare concrete slats. Sow stalls not allowedPigs mostly kept permanently indoors on bare concrete slats.
Bedding
labelling-bedding
Shelters or barns must have adequate beddingShelters or barns must have adequate beddingShelters or barns must have adequate bedding Straw or similar bedding must be provided, verified by regular RSPCA inspectionsShelters or barns must have adequate bedding Pigs often kept with no straw or other bedding Pigs often kept with no straw or other bedding
Antibiotics
labelling-antibiotics
Permitted to treat illness, but very rarely required, long withdrawal period before slaughterPermitted to treat illness, but very rarely required, long withdrawal period before slaughterPermitted to treat illness, but very rarely requiredProvision of bedding and extra space means pigs are healthier and require less antibioticsRarely required for sows, piglets usually given antibiotics after weaningRoutine over-use of antibiotics widespreadRoutine over-use of antibiotics widespread
Farrowing crates
labelling-farrowing
Not permittedNot permittedNot usedNot permittedNot usedSows can be confined to narrow steel farrowing crates, unable to turn around for 5 weeks in each farrowing cycleSows can be confined to narrow steel sow stalls & farrowing crates, unable to turn around for 5 weeks in each farrowing cycle
Nesting
labelling-nesting
Sows can roam, root, socialise and nest according to their natural instinctsSows can roam, root, socialise and nest according to their natural instinctsSows can roam, root, socialise and nest according to their natural instinctsSows must be given adequate amounts of straw or similar materialSows can roam, root, socialise and nest according to their natural instinctsPigs commonly kept with no or ineffective environmental enrichmentPigs commonly kept with no or ineffective environmental enrichment
Tail docking
labelling-taildocking
Not permittedNot permittedNot necessary because pigs kept outdoors are not stressed and do not bite each other’s tailsPermitted with permission from RSPCA, and only if the causes of tail biting are addressedNot necessary because sows kept outdoors are not stressed and do not bite each other’s tails. Pigs fattened indoors often routinely tail docked (illegal)Widespread routine (illegal) tail dockingWidespread routine (illegal) tail docking
Feed
labelling-gmfeed
No GM feed allowed. Locally grown feed encouragedNo GM feed allowed. Locally grown feed encouraged GM feed allowed GM feed allowed GM feed allowed GM feed allowed GM feed allowed
Feeding space
labelling-feedingspace
Feed spread outdoors or in troughsFeed spread outdoors or in troughsFeed spread outdoors or in troughsEnhanced space allowancesFeed spread outdoors or in troughsUK legal minimumEU legal minimum
Weaning
labelling-weaning
No earlier than 40 daysNo earlier than 40 daysUsually later weaning, up to 42-56 daysNo earlier than 21 daysNo earlier than 21 daysNo earlier than 21 daysNo earlier than 21 days
This is where we draw our bottom line

Download the labelling comparison chart… and put it on your fridge!


Two or more labels used together means the farm must adhere to the minimum welfare standards of each label represented. For example, a pork product displaying both the RSPCA Assured logo and the Red Tractor logo, would adhere to a minimum of RSPCA Assured welfare standards as these are higher than those of the Red Tractor scheme.
labelling-twolabels
Then request better pork! Download, print and drop off this supermarket request letter with your local store managers, asking them to carry products from high welfare farms. Don’t give up until they respond to you!

Download a supermarket request letter

Questions to ask retailers

local-butcher
Much of the best meat comes from independent retailers, butchers and farmers’ markets. Meat from these sources is not always labelled and the best way to find out where it came from and how it was produced is to talk to the person you are buying it from.

Download and print our full list of questions to ask retailers

Here are three key questions to ask when buying pork with no clear labelling:

Retailers should ideally know which farm the meat they are selling has come from, or at least which supplier it came from so that you are able to contact the producer.
Organic, Free Range, outdoor bred or RSPCA Assured. Not all farms will have been certified to any of these standards, but may still produce high welfare pork. Retailers should know the conditions in which the pigs have been raised, which you can cross-reference with the labelling information above.
Antibiotics should only be used in essential cases, in other words if the pig is ill and in need of medicine. They should not be used to encourage growth, or simply to keep pigs ‘healthy’.

Online resources

Find farmers’ markets, local butchers and other high welfare retailers by using our high welfare pork directory, as well as these useful websites:

  • pork directory
    High Welfare Pork Directory
    Our very own directory of farms, restaurants, shops & markets helping you find pork that you can trust.
  • find-bigbarn2
    Big Barn
    BigBarn is a Community Interest Company committed to reversing the anti-social trend of the UK food industry.
  • find-localfoodadvisor
    Local Food Advisor
    A list of the top 4000 award winning local producers, Food Markets, Farmers Markets and Farm shops – all of whom have won major UK awards, certifications and recommendations.

  • Proper Snap
    Find your nearest local, independently-produced or artisan food & drink.