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Should we be saving Jamie's bacon?

News Section Icon Published 30/01/2009

Channel 4's Jamie Saves Our Bacon (aired on Channel 4, Thursday 29 January) had a double-edged welfare message: save our British pig farmers and protect our pigs.

Jamie Saves Our Bacon did not shy away from bringing the realities of pig farming to the living rooms of millions of viewers but it also misled them to believe that buying British was a sure guarantee to higher welfare.

Several years ago we won a major legal battle by getting the narrow stalls where pregnant sows were kept, banned in the UK. Many Danish and Dutch sows are still kept in these stalls - and that is where most of our bacon comes from.

So it's right to support the higher welfare standards of our farmers but it is wrong to believe that buying British is good enough.

Our farmers are routinely flouting an existing EU law which says that pigs should not be routinely tail-docked. Cutting off piglets' tails without anaesthetic or post-op pain relief is an infamous business, yet around 80 per cent of our farmers are still performing this crude procedure. As Compassion patron Joanna Lumley stated on the Channel 4 show "it's barbaric".

British farmers also continue to use farrowing crates, similar to sow stalls but used to confine sows from the last week of pregnancy until weaning and all too often our farmers fail to provide straw or other manipulable materials. So the picture really is not so rosy.

Jamie is right however that we need clear labels - but not only on country of origin. We also want method of production as we have with eggs.

So the message from Compassion in World Farming is please do support British farmers - but support the ones who guarantee that their pork comes from pigs who have been raised on organic or free range outdoors systems or in enriched, straw-bedded indoor systems where tail-docking is not routine, such as Freedom Food.

European vs British pig farming at a glance

The British pig industry is ahead of European counterparts because:

  • Sow stall cages were banned in 1999
  • Castration is rarely practised and banned from most assurance schemes
  • Straw is used by a significant proportion of pig farmers
  • Around 40 per cent of breeding sows in Britain are kept outdoors
  • Supermarkets are beginning to provide pig meat labels for consumers such as "free-range", "outdoor bred and reared" and "straw bedding provided"

But to be truly high welfare the British pig industry needs to address:

  • Many British pigs are still kept in often overcrowded pens with bare floors
  • Only 2 per cent of British pigs reared for meat are truly free-range
  • Around 80 per cent of British pigs are tail docked
  • Neither country of origin nor method of production is legally required on labels
  • Pregnant sows may not face the sow stall but they are confined in farrowing crates

Our Europe-wide investigation into pig welfare standards reveals shocking images of barren pig pens with European law frequently broken, including in several British farms despite UK claims to highest welfare.


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