The UK Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board recently launched the "Pork Not Porkies" campaign, claiming that all pork certified by food and farming "assurance" label Red Tractor was "high welfare". Compassion in World Farming disagreed, took the case to the Advertising Standards Authority and won – a triumph for honest food and farming. Here’s the lowdown.
"Pork Not Porkies"
Back in autumn 2011, a range of bright-pink posters and banners sprung up in targeted on- and off-line media outlets. On them were the words "PORK NOT PORKIES – RED TRACTOR PORK IS HIGH WELFARE PORK", written in large, friendly looking, candy-coloured lettering. The message was clear: buy Red Tractor pork and ensure that the pigs have had a good life.
The ad encouraged the public to visit the Love Pork website or Facebook page and sign up to their "pork promise": "From this day forth I promise to give more thought to the pork on my fork… to think twice about whether it's quality pork produced by farmers who prioritise the wellbeing of their pigs."
A great idea in theory – not so great in practice
It’s estimated that around 80% of British pigs are reared within the Red Tractor scheme (Rural Voice, 2011). Some of these will be reared in higher-welfare systems, but many will inevitably be factory farmed. Ultimately, much of Red Tractor pork cannot be described as being "high welfare".
Making a case to the ASA
And this was the argument that Compassion took to the ASA, citing the ad to be untrue and misleading. Speaking about it, a Compassion spokesperson said:
We are very surprised by this claim… Many consumers look to labels such as The Red Tractor and trust that they are buying products from animals that have been treated well and raised humanely. However, Red Tractor standards are so minimal that it cannot claim that all its pork products are high welfare. It is unfair to mislead consumers in this way.
And it wasn’t just Compassion saying it; Pork Not Porkies received 206 complaints, which would have placed it firmly in the top 10 most complained-about adverts in 2011 (according to the Advertising Standards Authority, quoted in The Guardian1).
The fight-back on behalf of Red Tractor came from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), which argued that the advert claim was true when compared to the generally poorer conditions faced by EU pigs, as the UK imports many pork products from Europe.
A win for humane-sustainable food and farming
But although the ASA agreed with AHDB regarding the EU/UK claim, it felt that Pork Not Porkies didn’t make this clear. In the ASA's own words:
We considered that the claim implied that there were no concerns about the welfare of pigs in the UK, whereas some areas were unlikely to be regarded as "high" welfare. We therefore concluded that the claim was misleading.
A broader problem
The Pork Not Porkies case highlights a broader problem with factory farming – the bucolic illusion that is often painted for consumers; the closed doors; the misleading labels. Food and farming should be based on quality, integrity and transparency. If food needs to be covered up and falsely marketed, you have to ask why, and you have to ask whether you’d want to eat that food in the first place?