ADVERT SPARKS ANGER:By Paul Andersen and Philip Clarke

THE BRITISH Pig Executive has launched a 1m advertising campaign telling consumers that two-thirds of imported pigmeat does not meet British animal welfare standards and would be illegal to produce in the UK.

While the claim has provoked angry reactions from Dutch and Danish pig producers, BPEX argues that it is legitimate to raise public awareness of the fact that animal welfare standards are higher in the UK.

“I don”t think the UK industry would argue with the animal welfare legislation in this country, but if we as a society find stalls and tethers unacceptable, it is not unreasonable to inform retailers and consumers that these are still in use in the production of pigmeat that is imported into this country,” said Chris Lukehurst, marketing manager at BPEX.

Stalls and tethers have been banned in the UK since 1999, while a ban on tethers will come into force on the Continent in 2006 with a partial ban on stalls only in 2013.

But Danish pig industry representatives have attacked the campaign for its narrow interpretations. “It focuses on the premise that two-thirds of the pork imported to the UK comes from farms operating welfare practices that would be illegal in the UK,” said Danish Bacon and Meat Council marketing director John Howard.

“Although technically true with respect to systems used for housing sows during the period of pregnancy, it misrepresents pig welfare as a whole. For example, recent Danish legislation calls for more stringent demands regarding the provision of showering systems, plus the complete phasing out of fully slatted flooring systems for weaners and finishers.”

Mr Howard also pointed out that over 50% of Danish sows are group housed, mainly to meet UK contracts, though many farmers preferred to confine their sows after service, to protect them from bullying.

The Dutch pigmeat industry has also played down the significance of the stalls and tethers issue. Dutch Meat Board managing director Robert Smith explained that it was all about consumer demand and not everyone in the UK wanted to pay more for “welfare friendly” pork. “Currently we have more suppliers of UK specification pigmeat in Holland than we have demand for,” he said.

But both the Dutch and the Danes denied reports that they were about to take BPEX to the Advertising Standards Agency, as they did in 2000 in relation to earlier anti-import advertisements. This would only raise the profile of what they consider to be a negative BPEX campaign and that could tarnish the reputation of pigmeat in general.