Three adverts highlighting the high welfare standards of pork sold with the Red Tractor quality mark have been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for “misleading” claims.

The ads, produced by the The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), received a complaint from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and 206 members of the public. They challenged whether the claim “Red Tractor pork is high welfare pork” was “misleading” and could be substantiated.

The AHDB told the ASA Red Tractor pork was high welfare compared to pork from other EU exporting countries and believed consumers would understand the distinction. The AHDB said it believed EU legislation prevented shoppers from making a direct comparison with imported pork.

The ASA, however, said the comparison was unclear and consumers could interpret the ads to be a claim about the general level of pig welfare in the UK.

“We considered that the claim implied that there were no concerns about the welfare of pigs in the UK, whereas some areas were unlikely to be regarded as ‘high’ welfare,” the ASA said in its adjudication.

In a statement, Red Tractor said the ruling accepted Red Tractor pork is produced to higher standards than other EU exporting countries. However, it said it was “slightly disappointed” the ASA felt the “obvious” point of reference should have been made more explicit in the adverts.  

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“The fact is that much of the imported pork that we see on shelves is produced in systems that would be illegal in the UK, let alone below Red Tractor standards. Even changes to EU pig welfare regulations that come into effect from January 2013 still won’t be on par with the Red Tractor standards.”

The British Pig Executive (BPEX), a division of the AHDB, however, said it accepted the ASA’s ruling but said the decision was based on “a small technicality”.

“We will continue to promote the independently audited standards behind Red Tractor pork and pork products, including welfare, in a way that is absolutely clear to consumers,” said director Mick Sloyan.

The CIFW has long been a critic of the Red Tractor scheme. In a study published in May by CIFW, the group said a new analysis of the farm assurance schemes had shown the Red Tractor scheme allows “offers little in the way of animal welfare”.

“The Red Tractor scheme, ranked lowest in a new study by charities Compassion in World Farming and OneKind, was found to often offer little more on animal welfare than compliance with minimum legislation,” it noted.