More than 95% of pigs kept for meat and 70% of breeding sows are factory farmed. And yet much vaunted assurance schemes have been developed to entice the consumer to buy British reared pig meat. The certification marks are supposed to guarantee higher welfare, hygiene etc. standards. Do they? Or are consumers being conned?
RSPCA Freedom Foods
The word ‘Freedom’ in Freedom Foods does not guarantee that the meat came from animals that were free range. In fact, much of the pig meat approved by the RSPCA comes from animals kept in indoor intensive systems.
This, not surprisingly, comes as a shock to those consumers who trust the RSPCA to only approve of non-intensive production. In fact the RSPCA’s standards are almost identical to those of the meat industry - FABPigs/Meat and Livestock Commission/MAFF ie those who support factory farming. As the RSPCA Freedom Food does not offer markedly higher standards of welfare than the industry’s own schemes, the question must be - why have the RSPCA launched Freedom Food at all?
Viva!’s position is that the word ‘Freedom’ should not be used at all in the RSPCA’s trade mark for food as it misleads the public into believing the animals killed for the products were free range, or at least from less intensive conditions than which this welfare charity approves.
Further, the RSPCA has not improved conditions for pigs in general at all. Instead the Freedom Food scheme approves of the status quo, with standards being no better than those proposed by the NFU, MLC or MAFF! Viva! believes the public and the animals deserve better.
Some examples of the RSPCA standards from their document RSPCA Welfare Standards for Pigs; Freedom Food (43) illustrate the point:
RSPCA: ‘Piglets must not be weaned from the sow before 3 weeks of age.’
Viva! comment: The scheme approves farms which wean at 3 weeks. Naturally piglets would be weaned at 12 weeks and parting them from their mother this early makes them extremely vulnerable to disease; leads to overuse of antibiotics and other medicines; and causes trauma to both mother and piglets. Presumably the RSPCA chose 3 weeks because this is when most intensive systems currently wean piglets (so that they can make the sow pregnant again as soon as possible in order to produce more piglets from her.)
The RSPCA even admit that ‘The earlier the weaning age...the greater the chance of them suffering from welfare problems,’ but rather than stipulating that farmers must wean later, they say: ‘therefore a more careful system is required with respect to management...’
RSPCA: on lying areas for pigs... ‘It must be a sufficient size to accommodate all pigs together lying on their sides.’
Viva! comment: The RSPCA approves of farms that give sufficient space to allow pigs to lie down at the same time and no more...barely overcrowded at all!
RSPCA: on space allowances... ‘Pigs must always be provided with a total floor space no less than 1.5 times the lying area.’
The minimum bedded space for growing pigs is as follows:
Live weight (kg)
Lying area (m2)
Total area (m2)
Viva! comment: In our view this means that the RSPCA approves of overcrowded (not illegal) conditions. In essence, pigs have enough space to lie down and a fraction more for their life. It recommends that an adult sow should be given at least 3.5m2. These standards are the same as the industry’s and are the minimum requirements by law! You couldn’t get further from ‘freedom’ for these animals.
RSPCA: ‘The pig must be free to turn around without difficulty at all times. The dimension of any stall or pen must be such that the internal area is not less than the square of the length of the pig and no internal size is less than 75% of the length of the pig.’
Viva! comment: These requirements are the minimum standards required by MAFF and are the same as those for the industry’s FabPigs scheme for dry sows (breeding females who are not suckling). So the pig must be kept in an area which is at least as big as the pig’s length on all sides. This space is the equivalent of giving a 5’ 10’’ man a room measuring 5’10’’ on all sides. Not welfare friendly and certainly not what ‘freedom’ conjures up.
RSPCA: ‘The use of farrowing crates is contrary to the principles of Freedom Food Standards’ however they allow them anyway. ‘Sows must not be kept in farrowing crates for more than 28 days after farrowing.’ (1998 standards)
In the revised Freedom Food standards (June 2000) the RSPCA allow existing scheme members to continue using the farrowing crate until 2005, new applicants must give mother sows the freedom to turn around when her piglets are five days old.
Viva! comment: The RSPCA are deeply compromised. As an animal welfare organisation the meat industry's commercial considerations should not be what drives their standards. However, this is exactly what has happened. In an effort to work with intensive producers, the RSPCA have sacrificed pigs’ welfare.
Any member of the public who cares about the way farm animals are treated would be disgusted to discover that the RSPCA ever approved of farrowing crates in its Freedom Foods scheme. It is a welcome move that they are being phased out - perhaps Viva!’s pressure on the RSPCA helped bring about this change? Finally, it is disappointing that the RSPCA will allow sows about to give birth to be crated. This is an active time for the sow when she would naturally walk for miles and build a nest. Crating her is extremely cruel.
RSPCA: ‘Tail docking is against the principles of Freedom Food standards. However, at the present time it is accepted that it may be necessary, to alleviate pain and suffering caused by tail biting. As soon as enough information is available regarding husbandry methods which prevent tail biting outbreaks, the practice of tail docking for preventative reasons will not be permitted within the Freedom Food scheme.’
Viva! comment: Again the RSPCA compromises welfare principles in order to support a common intensive farming practice. It is misleading to state that not enough information is available on how to stop tail biting. Detailed and numerous studies have shown that tail biting is caused by bad management eg overcrowding, no straw and early weaning. (See Factory farming causes tail biting section.)
The RSPCA, instead of allowing cruel procedures that are against their principles, should set much higher welfare standards which would eliminate tail-biting and therefore the ‘need’ to tail dock.
The RSPCA also approves of units which never allow a pig to see or feel sunlight; to be able to run and play; to explore the natural world. They permit teeth clipping, a transport time up to 8 hours; and of withdrawing food for up to 18 hours before slaughter.
The British Meat Quality Standard Mark
The British Meat Quality Standard Mark for pigmeat was launched in January 1999 - backed by the government’s agriculture minister Nick Brown. The BPISG chairman Stewart Houston said:
“The new Mark recognises the vital importance of identifying British pigmeat and differentiates the superior British specification from most imported pigmeat.”
The Mark was introduced by the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) whose remit it is to promote red meat. By 2000 they had spent £2.5 million on a campaign promoting the Mark to retailers and consumers that pigmeat products with this badge have reached ‘high welfare standards, production, processing and transport.’
Jim Macaulay, chairman of the MLC’s Pork and Bacon Promotion Council said:
“We are confident it will deliver what the consumer wants across key issues of food safety, quality assurance and animal welfare.”
Pigmeat sold using the Quality Standard logo must be produced from UK pig farms approved by either FAB(Farm Assured British)Pigs, the Malton code or Scottish Pig Industry Initiative quality assurance scheme.
The Farm Assured British Pigs Scheme (FABPigs)
FABPigs launched in September 1996. “Coverage of the scheme has reached around 70% of the kill. Alongside farm membership, abattoir membership of the British Quality Assured Pork is rising rapidly and most British abattoirs require FABPigs membership of their suppliers” said Rob Gready, Scheme Manager (21).
FABPigs is owned by the National Farmers Union; The British Pig Association; Federation of Fresh Meat wholesalers and British Meat and Manufacturers Association.
The only pigs shown in a photo in the main promotional leaflet is that of, surprise surprise, free range animals! However, as with the RSPCA and other industry schemes it mainly approves indoor intensive units
Some examples of FABPigs standards (from Products Certification Scheme for Farm Assured British Pigs) are:
Tooth clipping of newly born piglets is acceptable.
Tail docking is allowed (but must be reviewed by farmer and vet quarterly and a vet must be present and it must be done to piglets less than 48 hrs old)
FABPigs base their space requirements for intensively produced pigs on that of the minimum requirements demanded by law (Welfare of Livestock Regulations (1994)) - in other words, as with the RSPCA, the scheme does not guarantee high welfare. It guarantees implementing a weak, ineffective law which states that pigs should have space to turn around; lie down at the same time and have a dry lying area. And - as with the RSPCA - that’s more or less it!
A growing (fattening pig) requires the minimum of:
Live weight (kg)
Total area (m2)
A breeding sow or gilt should have a minimum of 1.5m2.
And for dry sows (non-suckling breeding females): ‘The dimension of any stall or pen must be such that the internal area is not less than the square of the length of the pig and no internal side is less than 75% of the length of the pig.’
So the human equivalent of a growing pig - keeping a 10 stone human in an area of less than 0.5m2.
And for farrowing pigs:
Farrowing crates are permitted for 28 days after giving birth and piglets may be weaned at 3 weeks.
No mention is made of provision of bedding materials for indoor pigs (yet outdoor pigs must be well bedded).
No mention is made of having to provide pigs with straw (or any other material) to allow for expression of natural behaviour such as rooting, chewing and so on.
In summary the RSPCA, FABpigs and MLC’s British Meat Quality Standard schemes are very similar and state the following ;
Withdraw drugs before slaughter in accordance with the law
Treat sick animals
Provide separate pens for ill and injured animals
Monitor tail, ear, flank biting and fighting and produce an action plan to stop it
Dispose of casualty pig carcases promptly through a registered outlet or by burying or burning on farm
Clean the establishment
Keep pigs in stable groups
Mark pigs for ID
Inspect growing pigs once a day
Allow tooth clipping and tail docking within 48 hours of birth
Allow nose ringing (not the RSPCA)
Provide flooring which is washable and does not cause injury
Provide artificial light to indoor pigs for equivalent of daylight hours
Provide space for the pigs to turn around and lie down at the same time (but no more is necessary)
Keep breeding boars (huge animals) in pens of at least 10m2 for their life
Keep breeding sows in a space which is not less than their square length (so they can just turn around)
Allow farrowing crates for 28 days after birth (RSPCA phasing to 5 days)
Allow weaning at 3 weeks (naturally would be 12)
Provide food each day on a ‘wholesome’ diet
Provide fresh water each day
Transport time up to 8 hours
Unfortunately, the British Meat Quality Standard Mark was awarded to at least one of the farms that Viva! filmed. The establishment was anything but clean and pigs were covered in faeces, had no bedding and some were in permanent darkness.
The Malton Code
The Malton Code is approved by the MLC’s British Meat Quality Standard scheme. It is a code produced by Malton Foods, part of Unigate plc, a food manufacturing group operating in the UK and Continental Europe. Malton Foods describes itself as a "complete pigmeat processing business producing a wide range of added-value pork, bacon and ham products and other cooked meats." It slaughters pigs, turns them into bacon and so on and packages. Malton Foods is one of the largest pigmeat producers in Britain and therefore developed its own code for its 2000 suppliers.
Again, the Code bases itself on the FAWCs Five Freedoms and MAFF's Code of recommendation for welfare of Livestock - Pigs.
Tail docking is permitted within 24 hours of birth, no vet has to be present. Tooth clipping is permitted also within 24 hrs of birth.
No sharp wedges must be pig’s pens
Slatted floors are allowed. Flooring must be well drained with dry bedding and a dry lying area at all times.
Stock must not be kept in darkness and have light for 8 hrs min per day at 50 lux.
Sick pigs to be separated in hospital pens
In transport/moving, goads, sticks and pipes not allowed.
Slurry and waste to be disposed of so as not to be a health or pest hazard
Carcases must be disposed of promptly and not available to 'vermin, wild birds or domestic animals'.
Malton follows MAFF and so requires the same as FABPigs i.e.:
A growing (fattening pig) requites the minimum of:
Live weight (kg)
Total area (m2)
And, as with the RSPCA and FABPigs, dry sows are allowed 1.5sq.m. to lie in
Farrowing crates are permitted - not to keep sows in more than 7 days before birth and 28 days after, unless weaned late and then 35 days. Piglets to have source of heat and dry lying area pre-weaning.
Boars can be kept isolated in a space of 6 sq.m. for their whole life.
Adequate water to be available
Effective ventilation and no draughts
Keep temperature comfortable
Fed daily and trough space in restrict feed systems must allow pigs to feed at same time
Swill may not be fed. But industrial food waste (non-meat) may be used
Feed storage tidy and clean.
Growth promoting antibiotics allowed, except in sow feed.
Environmental enrichment is none mandatory and no ideas are given.
Can be kept without food up to 18 hrs before slaughter, journey time up to 8 hrs
Analyse all the above schemes and it is soon apparent that they basically state standards which allow pigs to live and grow to be killed as quickly as possible in the smallest space possible with very little or no provision made for the basics which make life worth living. They are in close confinement their whole lives and can’t exercise or express normal behaviour. These animals have active, inquisitive and intelligent minds and yet they are given nothing. Even the mothers have their piglets taken from them at 3 weeks, only to be made pregnant five days later until she is killed for ‘low grade’ meat.
The only organisation to set markedly higher standards for animal welfare is the Soil Association.
The Soil Association Standards for Organic Food and Farming
The scheme does not guarantee that pigs are free range, although it actively encourages outdoor farming. For indoor pigs this is the only scheme which states that for both breeding and fattening pigs there must be:
‘Ample dry bedding with plentiful natural ventilation and light’ and:
‘Access to an outside run with a dunging, rooting and exercise area, and a rubbing post and implements for play.’
It is also the only scheme which completely prohibits the use of farrowing crates and the weaning of piglets at under six weeks (the RSPCA allows weaning at three weeks).
The Soil Association also prohibits:
Antibiotics, copper diet supplements and probiotics for growth promotion and:
Routine teeth cutting
The prophylactic use of iron injections
The purchase of animals from livestock markets
The purchase of stock that have been produced using transgenic or other genetic engineering techniques