Mick Sloyan, director of the British Pig Executive (BPEX) − which was responsible for the adverts − told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the organisation accepted the ruling, which was based on “a technicality”.
He said: “The ASA also recognised the British pig industry had high welfare standards. We will continue to promote high welfare standards for pork and pork products based on the independent audit standards behind the Red Tractor scheme.”
Sloyan said the pig industry was proud of its welfare record – which included banning the use of sow stalls and tethers years before the European industry. The EU will ban the use of stalls and tethers from January 1 2013.
Higher welfare standards
British consumers will understand that the Red Tractor pork sold in the UK achieved higher welfare standards than pork imported from other EU countries, he added.
The ASA ruling noted: “We understood that, due to differences in legislation and voluntary measures, the welfare of the majority of pigs in the UK exceeded the minimum standards laid down by the EC Directive. We were satisfied that, particularly in the areas of castration and sow stalls, the quality of pig welfare in the UK was high in comparison with the welfare of pigs in many European countries.”
But it added: “It was unclear that the claim ‘Red Tractor pork is high welfare pork’ was a comparative claim with imported pork, it would be understood to be a claim about the general level of pig welfare in the UK.”
It said the claim implied that there were no concerns about the welfare of UK pigs, whereas some areas were unlikely to be regarded as ‘high’ welfare. “We therefore concluded that the claim was misleading.”
The ruling followed a complaint by the animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). It suggested the claim ‘Red Tractor pork is high welfare pork’ could not be substantiated.
CIWF spokeswoman Joyce D’Silva said: “This is a victory for consumers, who deserve to be able to choose higher welfare meat without being misled.
Lucrative marketing tool
“Claims of high welfare are clearly a lucrative marketing tool but in this case they were overblown and misleading to the consumer.”
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said: “Under the Red Tractor scheme pigs can be kept on bare concrete or slatted floors with no comfortable bedding or suitable materials such as straw to root around in − not conditions which the RSPCA, and many shoppers, would equate with ‘high welfare’.”
But it added: “There are some really good farms in the Red Tractor scheme, which go well above the basic scheme requirements to provide their pigs with higher welfare conditions. There are others that are merely working to the minimum requirements and therefore failing to meet all the pigs’ physical and behavioural needs.”
The charity said it shared the UK pig industry’s concerns that a significant proportion of pork products imported into the UK from the EU and elsewhere come from pig production systems that would not meet certain key Red Tractor Scheme standards.