The National Pig Association (NPA) has urged caution on calls to introduce ‘Method of Production’ labelling on meat and dairy products.
The subject was discussed at a Westminster Forum event in London on the future of food labelling in the UK on Tuesday.
Ahead of the event, the NPA pointed out that the British pig sector already uses an established voluntary Code of Practice which defines several terms related to pig production methods, such as ‘outdoor bred’, ‘outdoor reared’ and ‘free range’. These are widely used by retailers on pork product labels.
The NPA understands the desire expressed by some groups to label meat and dairy products with specific definitions of how the animals used to produce them were reared, including for pigs reared indoors. But it warned that applying this to pork products would be extremely complex and could end up misleading consumers, as well as being unnecessary.
NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford said: “There is already good consistency in the use of production method labels on pork and this information is available for those consumers that are interested. The Red Tractor logo is also a useful indication to consumers that the product they are purchasing has been produced in Britain and can be fully traced back to the farm.
“Pig production systems employed in the UK are highly diverse and difficult to categorise into simple terms. For example, a pig may be born outside and then reared in different types of indoor accommodation at different stages. Similarly, much of the pork from a pig reared as free range or outdoor bred/reared is sold as conventionally reared pork at a standard price. It would be very difficult to design a clear label in these cases.
“There is also likely to be significant cost involved in ensuring pork, especially when used as an ingredient within other products, is labelled accurately and in a meaningful way, which would inevitably be passed on to both consumers and producers.
“It is also important to point out that while terms related to production method can be useful for giving an indication of how an animal has been reared, they should not be used as a proxy for animal welfare. All pig farms, big or small, indoor or outdoor, can achieve good health and welfare outcomes, depending on how they are managed and it is important that this is recognised.
“We believe there is a limit to the amount of useful and easy-to-understand information that can be put on food labels, and this is something that has been explored through Defra commissioned research. Going beyond what is already required by law is likely to lead to greater rather than less confusion amongst consumers.
“The NPA believes it would be better to focus on improving awareness of existing labels, before looking at extending further labelling requirements through law.
“There is already legislation in place that aims to protect consumers from misleading product labelling. We strongly support better enforcement of this legislation, in particular where images on pork products indicate a different type of production system to that which the pig was raised, as this is misleading to consumers.”