The “Pigcare” label stamped on local pork products risked breaching the Fair Trading Act and misleading consumers about the animals’ welfare, a Commerce Commission investigation found.

The Pigcare label was launched by NZ Pork in 2010 and promoted as a “world-class” seal of approval of high animal welfare. We criticised the labelling programme at the time for failing to require farmers to do more than meet the minimum standards of the animal welfare code.

Six years after the label was launched, the commission’s investigation concluded it may have misled shoppers about the welfare benefits provided to animals at Pigcare-accredited farms.

“The Pigcare logo … may give consumers the impression that pork products with these labels are farmed with methods that provide pigs with significantly greater welfare than provided by the minimum legal requirements,” said commission head of investigations Ritchie Hutton in a letter to NZ Pork.

Mr Hutton said NZ Pork’s own consumer survey lent weight to the commission’s conclusion. Survey respondents thought the label showed Pigcare-accredited farmers used ethical practices and cared for the welfare of pigs. “This may be inconsistent with the actual farming practices of some pig farms, which nevertheless still qualify to use the Pigcare label,” he wrote.

Label revamp

The commission’s investigation of the Pigcare label, which stemmed from complaints from animal rights group SAFE and others, resulted in compliance advice being issued to NZ Pork. Compliance advice is used to caution companies about their Fair Trading Act obligations.

Old Pigcare label (left) and new logo (right).
Old Pigcare label (left) and new logo (right).

In its advice, the commission suggested NZ Pork add qualifying statements to the logo, “mak[ing] clear the limited nature of the Pigcare requirements”. It also suggested improving website information to clearly identify the welfare benefits pigs farmed under Pigcare receive, above those required by the code.

NZ Pork chair Ian Carter says it never intended to claim the label presented a welfare benefit beyond that required by the code. Where Pigcare “raises the bar”, he says, is in the additional factors it assesses, such as the standard of buildings and farm maintenance.

NZ Pork has recently overhauled the logo. Mr Carter says the revamped logo is designed to distinguish local pork from imported meat, which comprises 58 percent of the market. The logo features a prominent “born and raised in New Zealand” tagline as well as a link to its Pigcare website.

Despite the commission’s recommendation to improve the online information available to consumers, the Pigcare site continues to refer to the programme’s “high welfare standards” but doesn’t explain these standards are the same as required by the animal welfare code.