The way some pigs are reared is ‘upsetting and wrong’, say shoppers

Shoppers around the world overwhelmingly support high animal welfare standards for pigs, and most would also be prepared to change their supermarket habits in response, an international survey on pork consumption has found.

Seven out of 10 people questioned said they found the manner in which pigs are reared for slaughter on some factory farms “upsetting”, “wrong” or “shocking”, after being shown photographs of some pig-keeping conditions in the online poll. The survey highlighted practices such as sows kept in small cages, antibiotic use, as well as tail-docking, teeth-grinding and castration, sometimes without pain relief.

Eight out of 10 shoppers surveyed in more than ten countries agreed that high welfare for pigs was important, and nearly nine of out of 10 in three key countries said they could be persuaded to shop at a supermarket committed to improving the lives of pigs.

However, fewer than one in three shoppers in most countries polled said they actively looked for labels on pork products indicating the animals had been reared in high-welfare conditions, and the great majority of those surveyed globally cited price, quality and appearance as more important in choosing which pork products to eat.

The survey was carried out on behalf of World Animal Protection, and involved interviews with nearly 10,000 consumers worldwide, including the UK, the US and China, all major consumers of pork products, by the polling company Voodoo. About 1,000 interviews were conducted in each country in the report.

World Animal Protection, a campaigning organisation, called on major supermarkets to pledge higher pig welfare in sourcing their meat, and urged consumers to demand change from retailers. Steve McIvor, chief executive, said: “Supermarkets hold the power to create better lives for pigs. We are encouraging customers of leading supermarkets to let them know they expect higher welfare standards for pork products, with the guarantee that pigs are raised right.”

The group wants pigs to be allowed to live in social groups in comfortable environments, with opportunities to express natural behaviour, and an end to practices such as those highlighted in the survey: sows in small cages, pigs kept in “dark, squalid warehouses and cramped, stressful conditions”, piglets having their teeth ground and tail docked without anaesthetic, and the overuse of antibiotics.

Consumer concerns over poor conditions for many pigs was outlined in the UK recently in the BBC programme Countryfile, in which a farmer showed pigs being reared in cages, provoking furious responses on social media both from those shocked by what they saw and defenders of intensive farming for enabling cheaper meat.

Changing buying habits among consumers may be a challenge, as most surveyed do not currently base their consumption on welfare considerations and many showed little awareness of key aspects of pig-rearing.

Minimum standards such as the space in which sows are kept and basic restrictions on antibiotics are enforced in countries such as Europe but are not enough, according to campaigners, while the rearing of pigs in “mega-farms” in which they rarely have access to the outdoors is on the increase.

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Some supermarkets around the world have already committed to higher welfare standards. From July, for instance, the Co-op in the UK will source all of its own-brand fresh pork, bacon, sausage, gammon and ham from outdoor-bred pigs on RSPCA-assured farms.

Jo Whitfield, the retail chief executive of Co-op, said: “The highest animal welfare standards should not just be the preserve of top-tier products and we want to ensure that the very best-quality British pork is available at everyday affordable prices.”

On outdoor-bred farms, piglets and their mothers have access to the outdoors for about four to six weeks from birth. After that, they can be reared indoors. In outdoor-reared systems, the pigs have access to fields for about half their lives.

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