When it comes to buying pork, the Red Tractor label does not offer any assurance that the pigs were raised in high welfare conditions. The Red Tractor label is not a high welfare label and means you are likely to be buying pork from pigs that have suffered acutely from close confinement, lack of bedding, overcrowding and stress. However, it is important to remember that more than 80% of all UK pig farms use the Red Tractor label. If the Red Tractor label is used in conjunction with another higher welfare label (which is often the case), then the pig welfare standards will be raised to that label. But, if the Red Tractor label is the only welfare label on a pork product, it should be avoided for the following reasons…
1. Substandard Inspections
Red Tractor is managed by the limited company Assured Food Standards (AFS) which is owned and funded by the British farming and food industry. Approval by Red Tractor is the farming and food industry essentially marking its own homework. We need independent labelling and inspections to ensure high standards.
Red Tractor farms have frequently been exposed by campaigners showing the brutal conditions covered by the BBC, the Ecologist, the Times, the Daily Mail and Viva! to name a few. Occasionally when a farm is investigated and exposed, Red Tractor will withdraw accreditation, but for the most part they turn a blind eye, allowing farms to operate below minimum legal welfare standards. Red Tractor inspects farms once a year, but only one in a thousand inspections are unannounced.
2. Spreading Misinformation
Red Tractor spends a lot of money on clever advertising that is designed to make people think the welfare standards are higher than the reality. They’ve even been caught in the past deliberately and blatantly misleading people. One advert that read: “RED TRACTOR PORK IS HIGH WELFARE PORK” was ruled misleading by the Advertising Standards Authority and had to be removed.
3. Pigs in Cages
Under the Red Tractor label, mother pigs can be kept in steel cages too narrow for them to turn around for five weeks at a time during each pregnancy (equivalent to 2.5 months a year). Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association and many other animal welfare charities continuously object to this cruelty, and urge the UK to follow other countries such as Norway, Finland and Switzerland that have already banned this inhumane, restricting and painful confinement.
4. Barren Floors
The Red Tractor label does not guarantee compliance with minimum UK legal welfare requirements. Many farms accredited by Red Tractor can house pigs permanently on bare concrete slats. This makes it impossible for the farm to comply with the UK law that requires pigs to have permanent access to straw or similar bedding.
5. Routine Mutilation
Many Red Tractor pig farms also ignore the law forbidding routine docking of piglets’ tails. The law specifies that tail docking cannot be carried out routinely, and that the cause of tail biting (stress caused by lack of bedding and overcrowding) must be addressed before any tail docking is carried out. However, it is clear that the routine tail docking of pigs is widespread and ongoing.
Watch out for pork products that only display the Red Tractor label… and don’t buy them. Use our pork labelling guide to find out more. You can find pork with high welfare labels in most supermarkets, such as *RSPCA Assured, Free Range or best of all Organic. These pigs will have 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, always ask if the meat is from a high welfare farm.
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