Three ads for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB):
a. A poster stated "PORK NOT PORKIES. RED TRACTOR PORK IS HIGH WELFARE PORK. MAKE THE PORK PROMISE AT [XXX].
b. A banner ad on AHDB's Facebook page featured the same text.
c. A national press ad stated "GRILL IT BEFORE YOU BUY IT. RED TRACTOR PORK IS HIGH WELFARE PORK. MAKE THE PORK PROMISE AT [XXX].COM/LOVEPORK.UK."
Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and 206 members of the public, the majority of whom appeared to be supporters of CIWF, challenged whether the claim "RED TRACTOR PORK IS HIGH WELFARE PORK" was misleading and could be substantiated.
AHDB explained that the Red Tractor scheme was owned by Assured Food Standards, a British organisation that promoted and regulated food quality. The quality mark scheme involved animal welfare assurance for the whole supply chain from farm to the retail outlet, unlike other schemes that predominantly concentrated on food safety. AHDB said 92% of farms in the UK were members of the Red Tractor scheme accounting for 40% of pork sold in the UK, with 98% of the remaining 60% of pork sold in the UK coming from EU exporting countries. They said Red Tractor pork was high welfare compared to pork from other EU exporting countries and believed that consumers would understand that Red Tractor pork was high welfare compared with other pork on the UK shop shelves. AHDB believed EU legislation prevented them from making a direct comparison with imported pork.
AHDB said the scheme was the only one to provide whole production chain welfare assurance, with Red Tractor farms subject to rigorous annual inspection, random spot checks and their pork the only pork on EU shelves subject to quarterly veterinary welfare audits. They said farms in the EU exporting countries underwent less frequent and rigorous audits. They explained that Red Tractor standards did not permit pig castration, used to rear pigs to heavier slaughter weight, and the UK law banned the use of sow stalls, which were metal cages in which dry sows were kept separated from other pigs during their pregnancy. These cages also prevented the sow from being able to turn around. They said both practices were still currently widespread in the EU exporting countries.
AHDB explained that farrowing crates were permitted on Red Tractor farms, which they said were used to protect the welfare of piglets. Sows were often kept in individual farrowing crates in the days immediately following birth up until weaning to help reduce piglet mortality as sows were less likely to crush their own piglets. They cited evidence that showed piglet mortality rates were higher in those countries that did not use farrowing crates. They understood that Defra (Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs) was funding research to develop and test commercially viable farrowing systems that did not closely confine the sow and also provide adequate protection to piglets, but considered that until then the risk of piglet mortality in alternative farrowing systems remained unacceptably high. AHDB said the Red Tractor standards required stock keepers who used farrowing crates to provide nesting material, unless it was likely to cause hygiene issues that could affect the physical health of the animals.
AHDB said the Red Tractor scheme was very active in the promotion of suitable manipulable materials to be provided for the pigs and the quarterly inspection regime ensured compliance to their standards. Access to manipulable materials, including straw, hay, sawdust, mushroom compost and peat, and non-organic materials such as wood, ropes, balls or chewing sticks, was important as it allowed pigs to engage in their natural investigation and foraging activities. They said the Red Tractor standards made clear that non-organic materials would not satisfy all of the pig's needs and went beyond the EU Directive 2008/120/EC 'Laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs' by prohibiting the use of tyres containing metal or wire. The standards made clear that chains alone were not acceptable, that objects must be shown to be of interest to the pigs and within easy reach, and for the pigs to slowly destroy the object it must be malleable. AHDB maintained that a significantly greater proportion of Red Tractor pigs had access to straw, which was the most common manipulable material.
AHDB maintained that Red Tractor members had a high standard of accommodation systems, which were usually divided into three types, fully slatted, partly slatted and solid concrete floors. They said their standards allowed for the use of slatted floors, in accordance with the standards set out in the EU Directive, although they understood that the CWF were opposed to their use. AHDB argued that their standards stipulated that floors must be kept well maintained to prevent injury and distress and contain a well-drained lying area. Slatted floors helped to maintain hygiene as excreta could fall between the slats, but nonetheless, they pointed out that the UK had the highest percentage of pigs kept in accommodation with straw bedding of anywhere in the EU. They therefore considered that Red Tractor accommodation standards significantly exceeded accommodation standards in the EU exporting countries.
AHDB described the problems with tail biting amongst pigs, which was generally accepted as an indication that pigs were suffering from low psychological welfare and could cause serious physical damage to pigs. They said tail biting appeared to occur more frequently in systems that did not provide sufficient manipulable materials, or when different groups of pigs were mixed together, but tail biting was unpredictable and could occur even on farms with high standards of welfare. They believed that the problem happened less often on Red Tractor farms, when compared with farms in the EU exporting countries, because Red Tractor pigs were provided with effective manipulable materials on a routine basis, a smaller percentage of farms used the slatted flooring system and their standards required that, after weaning, pigs must be kept in stable social groups with as little mixing as possible.
They explained that tail-docking could ease the risk of tail biting, which even in systems that significantly reduced the risk of tail biting, was often recommended by veterinarians. However, the Red Tractor standards did not permit tail-docking to be carried out routinely; it was only undertaken on the recommendation of a vet for welfare reasons and in compliance with rigorous procedures. They believed that tail-docking could not be said to be inconsistent with high welfare standards.
AHDB said the reduction of sharp canine teeth by clipping or grinding shortly after birth was necessary to prevent piglets from injuring sows' udders and littermates' faces during competition for teats between suckling pigs. They understood that tooth clipping was carried out throughout the EU and was undertaken to increase the physical wellbeing of the sow and piglets. They said, although the pain associated with tooth clipping was considered to be fleeting, Red Tractor standards strictly prescribed the circumstances in which tooth clipping could be carried out and believed their standards went significantly beyond those set down in EU legislation. They believed that the Red Tractor standards also went beyond EU legislation on transportation, general health and hygiene issues, nutrition, water availability and temperature. They believed the level of scrutiny, across a broad range of welfare issues, meant that Red Tractor farms would be compliant with the Red Tractor welfare standards at all times.
The ASA noted AHDB's assertion that the claim "RED TRACTOR PORK IS HIGH WELFARE PORK" was a comparison with the pork imported from the EU exporting countries and understood that they believed EU legislation might have prevented them from making a direct comparison, but nonetheless considered that the basis for that claim was unclear from the ads.
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.
We noted the Red Tractor scheme had stringent standards for their farms with spot checks and quarterly inspections to ensure that those standards were adhered to. We also noted the generally good compliance rate and, in those cases where a farm was found to have failed, the problems were speedily rectified. However, we understood that some aspects of pig farming in the UK, such as farrowing crates, tail-docking, tooth clipping and slatted floor accommodation, while better than in some EU exporting countries, were nonetheless still contentious issues. We noted the arguments for and against such practices and accepted that Red Tractor applied measures in an effort to control their use.
However, we considered that, because 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. 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.
The poster (a), banner ad (b) and press ad (c) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The poster (a), banner ad (b) and press ad (c) must not appear again in their current form. We told AHDB to ensure that the basis of comparative claims was made clear in the future.