The retail said the move further bolsters its animal welfare credentials and means that all pigs within its producer group will be born outdoors and raised in well-ventilated, spacious straw barns to strict RSPCA welfare standards on farms across the UK.
By partnering with Tulip Ltd, the UK’s largest high-welfare pig producer, the Co-op said it had established an RSPCA Assured, outdoor-bred pork supply chain offering traceability from farm to fork in which sows are free from confinement and pigs are able to fully express their natural behaviours.
The 100 percent outdoor promise is set to be rolled out across the Co-op’s standard and premium ranges.
Jo Whitfield, retail chief executive officer at the Co-op, said: “Our customers and members shop with us because they know we are as passionate as they are about animal welfare, so we’re delighted to be able to bring such a pioneering approach to our pig offering.
“The highest animal welfare standards should not just be the preserve of top-tier products and we want to ensure that the very best quality British pork is available at everyday affordable prices. We will be working hard with innovative and passionate British farmers who share our principles, to provide exceptional quality pork produce with a conscience.”
Cive Brazier, the chief executive of the RSPCA Assured scheme, added: “Thanks to the Co-op many more pigs will have a better life reared to RSPCA welfare standards. And not only that, but the Co-op is helping bust the perception that higher welfare food always means a higher retail price. Shoppers can be confident that, no matter what their budget is, all own-brand fresh pork products in the Co-op will be RSPCA Assured. This is a major step forward for helping improve pig welfare and we hope other retailers will follow suit.”
Farming Minister George Eustice backed the Co-op’s move. He said: “There is growing consumer interest in food provenance, animal welfare and the way food is produced and I welcome the decision of the Co-op to embrace that by switching to outdoor bred pigs.”
Compassion in World Farming which campaigns for high animal welfare standards also welcomed the announcement.
Tracey Jones, the organisation’s director of food business, said: “We wholeheartedly congratulate the Co-op for making this move to higher welfare pig production across both their standard and premium own brand products. By doing so they are not only addressing key issues such as confinement and the need to provide pigs with a stimulating environment, but they are making higher welfare the norm and meeting their customers’ expectations.”
The National Pig Association said it was supportive of the RSPCA’s assurance standards which the Co-op was adopting but that other pork products, produced under the Red Tractor scheme, also play a key part in ensuring consumers can choose British pork produced under high animal welfare management systems.
Richard Lister, the Association’s chairman, said: “We welcome the Co-op’s ongoing commitment to sourcing 100 percent of its pork products from British farms. It is further recognition of the value the supply chain and consumers place on high quality British pork.
“The UK pig sector is unique in its broad diversity of production systems. We offer consumers unparalleled choice at many different price points, including those who actively seek outdoor-bred pork and those who don’t.”
According to AHDB Pork, outdoor pig production accounts for around 40 percent of the UK industry.
Mr Lister, a Boroughbridge-based pig farmer, added: “We support the RSPCA standard as it provides a premium for farmers that are able to produce in this way, yet we must remember that there is a limit to the number of pigs that can be bred outdoors because of insufficient suitable land. So whilst we welcome Co-op’s commitment to British pork, the volume of pork reared under the RSPCA assured label would not be able to satisfy the entire UK market.
“Consumers choosing conventionally produced British Red Tractor pork can also be safe in the knowledge that it is reared to high welfare, food safety and environmental standards with full traceability.”
The Co-op’s commitment to sourcing only outdoor-bred pigs on RSPCA Assured farms follows its move last May to switch all of its own-brand fresh meat to being 100 percent British sourced.
PORK EXPORT HOPES
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board joined more than 340 international food and drink companies from 28 countries at Mexico’s largest international food and drink fair this month.
The levy body is looking to develop new export opportunities and Mexico is a big importer of pork despite reporting one of the biggest rates of growth in pork production in 2017.
Susana Morris, AHDB’s livestock export manager, said: “It is estimated the country will consume two million tonnes of pork this year so it’s a market we cannot afford to overlook.”