Making sense of pork, bacon and ham labels

What does the label really tell you about the way pigs raised for meat are treated?

LAST UPDATED: 4 December 2020

Most pork products sold in butchers and supermarkets come from pigs confined in factory farms. These animals are afforded no quality of life whatsoever. With growing community concern about how pigs raised for food are being treated, the lives led by these animals has become a key consideration in purchasing decisions.

There are no simple, consistent or legally enforceable definitions for pig production systems in Australia. This has led to a complex and confusing collection of logos, labels and industry and retailer certification systems. In the tables below, we have attempted to demystify pork production methods to assist more people to make kinder choices.

While living standards will vary, the most significant difference between 'factory farmed' and 'free range' in terms of prolonged animal suffering is the treatment of the mother pig — whether she will be severely confined for much of her life or provided with space outdoors to express her natural behaviours.

But all pigs — in all production systems whether factory farmed or organic — will ultimately face the same terrifying fate inside an abattoir — usually in a 'gas stunning' chamber. This is the grim reality of pig production that is leading to more and more people taking pigs off their plates all together.

Certification systems included in the table:

  • Industry standard outlined in the Model of Code Practice (MCoP)
  • Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQ)
  • RSPCA Approved Farming (RSPCA)
  • Australian Certified Organic (ACO)
  • Humane Choice is a free range accreditation program from the Humane Society International Australia (Humane Choice)
  • Coles own brand specifications
  • Woolworths own brand specifications
  • Aldi own brand specifications
If the production system isn't specified on the packaging, the pig was almost certainly factory farmed.
Do pigs have access to the outdoors?
No
No
Some
Yes
No
Some
Yes
Yes
Yes
Can pregnant mother pigs be kept in sow stalls (a cage barely bigger than her body)?
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
Not specified
Are mother pigs and their piglets kept in farrowing crates (a cage barely bigger than her body)?
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
No
No
Can boars be kept individually in stalls (a cage barely bigger than his body)?
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
No
Not specified
Not specified
How much space needs to be provided to a pregnant pig in group housing?
1.4m2
1.4m2
Free access to outdoors
Free access to outdoors
3.5m2
Free access to outdoors
Free access to outdoors
Free access to outdoors
Free access to outdoors
What is the minimum indoor space provided to growing pigs (based on 100kg pig)?
0.66m2
0.66m2
0.66m2
0.66m2
1.03m2
1.03m2
1.03m2
Free access to outdoors
Free access to outdoors
Can painful procedures* be performed on young pigs without pain relief? (*Tail docking, teeth clipping and castration)
Yes
Yes
Yes
No
n/a
n/a
n/a
No
No
Are mother pigs provided bedding material for nest building in farrowing areas?
No
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Is provision of litter/bedding for growing pigs required?
No
No
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Is indoor environmental enrichment provided?
No
No
No
n/a (outdoor access)
Encour­aged
Encour­aged
n/a (outdoor access)
n/a (outdoor access)
n/a (outdoor access)
Can piglets be killed by blunt force trauma?
Yes (<15kg)
Yes (<15kg)
Yes (<15kg)
Yes (<15kg)
Yes (suckling piglets)
Yes (suckling piglets)
Yes (suckling piglets)
Yes (<15kg)
Uncertain
Are mother pigs sent to slaughter when they can no longer get pregnant?
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Can pigs be gassed with carbon dioxide to stun or kill them before being bled out/slaughtered?
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

In response to consumer concern about animal welfare, major retailers have established their own specifications for the production of the pig products they sell. These are primarily the industry standard, plus some additional requirements.

Do pigs have access to the outdoors?
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
Can pregnant mother pigs be kept in sow stalls (a cage barely bigger than her body)?
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
Are mother pigs and their piglets kept in farrowing crates (a cage barely bigger than her body)?
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
Can boars be kept individually in stalls (a cage barely bigger than his body)?
No
No
Yes
No
Yes
How much space needs to be provided to a pregnant pig in group housing?
1.5m2
Free access to outdoors
1.4m2
Free access to outdoors
1.4m2
What is the minimum indoor space provided to growing pigs (based on 100kg pig)?
0.69m2
1.03m2
0.66m2
0.66m2
0.66m2
Can painful procedures* be performed on young pigs without pain relief? (*Tail docking, teeth clipping and castration)
Yes
n/a
Yes
No
Yes
Are mother pigs provided bedding material for nest building in farrowing areas required?
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
Is provision of litter for growing pigs required?
No
Yes
No
Yes
No
Is indoor environmental enrichment provided?
No
n/a (outdoor access)
No
n/a (outdoor access)
No
Can piglets be killed by blunt force trauma?
Yes (<15kg)
Yes (suckling piglets)
Yes (<15kg)
Yes (<15kg)
Yes (<15kg)
Are mother pigs sent to slaughter when they can no longer get pregnant?
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Can pigs be gassed with carbon dioxide to stun or kill them before being bled out/slaughtered?
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

Definitions

  • Sow stalls: a cage (0.6m x 2.2m) confining individual female pigs for up to 6 weeks of their 116-day pregnancy.
  • Boar stalls: a cage (0.7m x 2.4m) for permanently housing adult breeding boars.
  • Farrowing crates: a cage (0.5m x 2m) confining mother pigs just before and after they have given birth ('farrowed') for 4-6 weeks until the piglets are weaned.
  • Mating stalls: a cage (0.6m x 2.2m) where individual female breeding pigs (gilts and sows) are kept while being artificially inseminated or 'mated', and until she is confirmed to be pregnant again.
  • Group or 'loose' housing: when multiple pigs are housed together in pens large enough for the pigs to move around in.
  • Surgical procedures: young pigs are legally subjected to a range of painful, invasive procedures — without pain relief — including teeth clipping, tail cutting or 'docking', and castration.
  • Blunt force trauma: a method used for causing unconsciousness or death through a blow to the head with a heavy object (e.g. hammer) or by swinging a piglet in an arc and hitting the piglets' head forcefully against a solid floor.


Making sense of terms and labels

'RSPCA Approved'

The RSPCA Approved system accredits pig farms to RSPCA standards. Pigs on these farms can be raised in an outdoor system ('free range' or 'bred free range') or indoor system. Pigs in an RSPCA Approved indoor farm have no access to an outdoor area. However, the welfare standards are higher than in conventional factory farms.
RSPCA Approved

'Outdoor Bred' or 'Bred Free Range'

On 'bred free range' farms or 'outdoor bred' farms, sows and boars range freely outdoors in a free range system. The piglets are born in the free range system and live there until they are weaned (which is normally around 3-5 weeks of age) and are then placed into an indoor system which can be intensive indoor housing (factory farming) or a 'higher welfare' system such as an RSPCA Approved indoor farm.

The following logo accompanied by the description 'bred free range' indicates that the pigs were raised on a certified 'bred free range' or 'outdoor bred' farm.

Outdoor bred

The RSPCA Approved logo accompanied by the term 'bred free range' also indicates the product came from pigs raised in this production system.

'Certified Free Range'

Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of the term free range in Australia so standards between farms can vary. These logos indicate that the pigs were raised on a true free range farm.

Free range pork labels

The RSPCA Approved logo accompanied by the term 'free range' also indicates the product came from free ranging pigs.

'Certified Organic'

Certified organic pig products come from pigs kept on farms which meet and exceed standards in the best free range facilities. However, simply the word 'organic' on packaging can sometimes mislead people to think the welfare of pigs meets certified organic standards — when it may simply mean that pigs are fed organic feed. These logos on the packaging indicate that the pigs were raised on a certified organic farm.

Certified Organic

Conventional / Indoor / Factory Farmed

These are labels you will commonly find in most major retailers. You'll see that the production method isn't specified. That means that the pigs were raised indoors, and the standards will vary according to what we have outlined in Table 2.

Conventional

'Australian Pork' is the industry's peak body and this logo will usually appear on 'fresh' pork products; the meat will be from Australian pigs (not imported meat). However unless accompanied by the term 'free range' or 'outdoor bred', this label means the pigs were raised according to APIQ Indoor standards outlined in Table 1.

Australian Pork

Other claims and logos

There are other phrases and logos used on pig products that may be perceived to suggest higher welfare such as 'All Natural', '100% Australian grown pork', 'Australian made', or the 'Australian Pork' logo as depicted above. The majority of these do not signify a higher standard of welfare. If the production method isn't stated on the packaging, the pig was almost certainly factory farmed.

Ethical concerns in all pig farming systems

It is important that consumers are aware that there are ethical and welfare issues common to all pig farming systems — including certified free-range and certified organic.

Regardless of the system the pigs are born and raised in, they will be transported and slaughtered in similar facilities at a young age. Whilst pigs would normally live to an average age of about 10 years, pigs destined for slaughter will be killed between 4 and 12 months of age. The mothers used for breeding (sows) are trapped in a cycle of suffering to give birth to as many piglets as possible until her body can no longer physically cope and she is sent to slaughter too — in factory farms this is usually between 2 and 3 years of age.

Pig looks out from transport truck
Pig looks out from transport truck. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

The transport and slaughter process is inherently stressful for the animals. Herded together in trucks to be transported for often many hours without room to lie down is a traumatic experience. And what happens when they get to the slaughterhouse, is even worse. The vast majority of pigs in Australia — regardless of the farming system they came from — will be killed via 'gas stunning'.

To fuel the demand for bacon, pork and ham, thousands of young pigs are forced into carbon dioxide gas chambers every day — despite science confirming that the gassing method outlined in the Australian meat industry standards is likely to cause distress and suffering.

What's the alternative?

Current demand for pork, bacon and ham in Australia can only be met by factory farming. But this demand would never have existed if people knew the truth about how animals are being treated. Refusing factory farmed products is an important first step to eliminating some of the worst cruelties inflicted on pigs. But to end factory farming, animals urgently need caring consumers to also make the choice to eat less or no meat.

And these days, it's easier than ever! As consumers become aware of the ethical issues relating to pig farming and slaughter, more and more are choosing plant-based alternatives to pork, ham and bacon that are readily available in most supermarkets.


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