Sunday, January 25, 2009

This Little Piggie

Sun 25 Jan 2009

A bit more food politics for you ... but read this and you'll be rewarded next week with cakes, competitions and videos!

You may have gathered that, here at Eating Leeds, we're enthusiastic eaters of all things porky. I fall into the Homer Simpson camp when it comes to pigs: they are wonderful, magical animals. And they're cute too - especially piglets.

You may also know that the UK pig farmer is in a bit of a predicament and that farmed pigs are, mostly, not treated quite as well as they could be. In addition to this, pig welfare standards are different across the EU and a pig that has been bred and slaughtered in the UK should have had a slightly better life than some of its friends in continental Europe. Because of all of these factors, I always try to buy British pork. Sometimes it's really easy (that's when you're at a farmers' market, buying a rare breed from the farmer) and other times it's very tricky. One of the most difficult places to buy pork (and pork products, such as bacon and ham) is, for us, the supermarket. It seems next to impossible to tell where the pork actually comes from.

And it's not that we're stupid: currently labelling legislation for pork products strikes me as vaguely ridiculous. Currently, a pork pie processed in Britain from Danish pork can be labelled a British pie.

The other problem is that there is no legal definition of labelling terms such as 'free range' (there are EU wide definitions for this term for eggs and chickens) and 'outdoor bred'. Combined with the confused origin labelling, it's no wonder that Andy and I spend a lot of time picking up different packets of ham and bacon and trying to work out which is the soundest purchase.

I know that we can't all spend our time (and money) at farmers' markets, chatting to the people closest to the pigs. And if we did, there wouldn't be enough pork to go around. However, I think it probably is time to invest a little more effort in thinking about the pork we buy. Take the time to check the labelling. I'd urge everyone to try to buy British pork and, after that, buy pork that's been raised to the highest welfare standards you can afford. If you can buy RSPCA Freedom Food pork - go for it!

You can always ask questions when you're in store, or you can write to your local supermarket's head office. You can also write to Hilary Benn MP, who is Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In the near future, there should be plenty of opportunity to learn more about pig welfare: the RSPCA has launched a 'Rooting for Pigs' campaign to try to improve labelling, and they've got Jamie Oliver on-side. You can sign the RSPCA's petition on-line and, on Thursday night (that's the 29th January) you'll be able to watch a pig welfare debate, led by Jamie Oliver, on Channel 4 in Jamie Saves Our Bacon.

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Blogger Joos de Littlemore said...

Good post, important topic. Because we are so blessed in this area with great pork pie makers, I haven't bought one in a wrapper for aeons - so the issue of what it says on the label hasn't arisen. But, I have to say that I can't ever remember seeing a sign in a producer's shop that says "All our pies are made with British pork." Ditto sausages. I think in future that I'll ask....

7:46 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

As far as I know there's one butcher in Leeds city market who has a sign up saying that all their pork is British (or perhaps even from Yorkshire) - although a lot of the other butchers do have individual cuts where it will be noted that it's British (or Yorkshire) pork.

In many ways I think it's better to ask your current providore about the provenance of the pork, rather than just abandoning the shop - that way he or she will know there's a demand for a local, ethically reared product.

9:45 pm  

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