Is Woolworths being “kinder to sows”?


Published on 22 February, 2016.

The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) has laid charges of animal cruelty against a Tiger Brands-run abattoir, which supplies Woolworths with pork products, claiming that it is slaughtering animals inhumanely.

The National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) confirms that criminal charges have been laid in terms of the Animals Protection Act (APA) No 71 of 1962 against  Enterprise Foods trading as Pork Packers Abattoir, a division of Tiger Brands whose method of “stunning” pigs prior to slaughter is considered to be unacceptable, inhumane and a violation of the Animals Protection Act.  Six charges of animal cruelty have been alleged.

The NSPCA provided the police with a disturbing video showing the animals just prior to their death to bolster its case.

“We believe that if we are going to eat meat, the very least we can do is ensure that the animals’ welfare is considered and to ensure humaneness from birth to death,” said Grace De Lange.

TIGERBRANDS LOGOAccording to a Tiger Brands press release, Tiger Brands recognise the laying of the criminal charges at Olifantsfontein police station, and claimed the abattoir was complying with all legal standards.

“While Pork Packers understands the role the NSPCA plays, the NSPCA is not the regulatory authority for meat products and its demands of the company, and criminal charge laid against Pork Packers, are neither valid, rational nor in the interest of the animals,” said Tiger Brands managing executive Andrew Cocks.

“We’re hoping for a successful prosecution and that the welfare of pigs is addressed,” De Lange said.

To see consumer comments on this development, follow #TigerBrandsMustFall twitter campaign.

You can politely request further information from Tiger Brands Group Communication and Stakeholder Relations Media contact, Nevashnee Naicker at

Please contact NSPCA in way of showing support for this heroic effort. Email:

by Elisa Galgut and Sonia Mountford

Published on 30 November, 2015.

Woolworths’ “Animal Welfare Position Statement” claims that the company believes “animals should have lives worth living. From birth to death, they should enjoy the five freedoms”, which are: ‘freedom from 1) hunger and thirst, 2) discomfort, 3) fear and distress, and 4) pain, injury or disease. The 5th freedom is a positive one – the “freedom to express normal behaviour.”

Woolworths also states that they are “committed to continuous improvement in all aspects of animal health and welfare” and that the company “ will ensure that the animals used in the production of all own brand foods and general merchandise will be produced to our specifications by known suppliers.” Woolworths also claims it is committed to inspecting all South African abattoirs and processing plants in order to check that they are compliant with Woolworths’ high standards for animal welfare.

In line with their commitment to these higher animal welfare standards, Woolworths made commitments regarding the treatment of pigs. They announced publically in May 2015 that “all fresh pork in all stores is ‘sow friendly” (which was already a delay on the initial promised date of September 2014). What Woolworths means by “sow friendly” in this context is that sows will no longer be restrained in sow stalls or gestation crates; in such stalls, pregnant sows are restrained for prolonged periods of time, unable to move around or express natural behaviours. Sows kept in such conditions exhibit stereotypical behaviours associated with stress and distress, such as biting the bars of their cages. Pigs are highly intelligent, social animals, and keeping sows confined in such small cages is highly unethical. Sow stalls were banned in the UK in 1999 and in the EU (apart from the first four weeks of a sow’s pregnancy) since 1 January 2013.

However, despite its promise to sell only sow stall-free fresh pork by May 2015, seven months later Woolworths has still not met its own deadline!

SowFarrowIn addition to not meeting its deadline on sow stalls, Woolworths has not made a commitment to ending the use of “weaning or farrowing crates”, which are confining cages into which sows are moved once they give birth. The crates are restrictive to the point that the mother pig can only stand and lie down — she cannot even turn around to see her piglets. Since a sow is likely to produce offspring 3 times a year, keeping sows confined only to weaning crates (but not sow stalls) still means that a sow can be confined for up to 3 months every year. How this is consistent with at least 3 of the 5 freedoms mentioned above is a mystery. For a company that claims it “cares deeply about the welfare of animals”, and had a market capitalisation of R100.5 billion at 28 June 2015, the neglect of the welfare of sows is deplorable.

But it gets worse – horribly worse. The NSPCA recently exposed that the Pork Packers abattoir, owned by Tiger Brands, and which supplies Woolworths with pork products, uses CO2 gas to stun pigs before they are slaughtered. The NSPCA released a video showing that the pigs stunned via this method experience extreme anguish, screaming in terror as they struggle to breathe. The use of CO2, which is a non-inert gas, is akin to the sensation of being drowned and causes extreme panic. This is clearly evident in the NSPCA video, available here:

According to the NSPCA, Pork Packers is the only abattoir in South Africa to use gas commercially to “stun” animals for food production. The NSPCA consulted international experts and provided a report from a researcher based in the UK, saying the use of CO2 was not a humane way of “stunning” pigs to render them unconscious prior to slaughter. “We didn’t only focus on the problem, but worked tirelessly to find a solution as our aim is to prevent animals from suffering,” said Marcelle Meredith, NSPCA CEO. “The NSPCA proposed changing the gas in the pit from a noxious gas, such as CO2, to an inert gas like argon. Argon or a combination of argon and CO2 would render the animals unconscious without the stress and panic of suffocation.” The NSPCA said it held several meetings with representatives from Tiger Brands, Woolworths and the Department of Agriculture to replace the system with a more “humane” method. “This proposal was submitted to Tiger Brands and Pork Packers and was rejected.”

“Woolworths cares deeply about the welfare of animals.”
Woolworths Press release 20 November.

It thus seems that Woolworths both knew about and condoned the use of CO2, despite objections by the NSPCA.   Woolworths has the ability to influence primary and secondary suppliers in order to drive application of codes of conduct and sourcing policies. Consumers may wish to ask whether this indifference to the suffering of animals is consistent with Woolworths’ claim that they “care deeply about the welfare of animals.” We are sure the pigs would disagree.

Despite their professed commitment to transparency (“We will be open and honest about the farming systems used to produce our own brand foods”), Woolworths have been tight-lipped about the NSPCA exposé, refusing to answer questions on social media about whether they knew about the CO2 stunning and whether they will no longer source from Pork Packers or any other abattoir that uses inhumane methods of stunning or slaughter.

Woolworths’ seeming inability to live up to their own claims regarding animal welfare has tarnished the company’s image, and its professed commitment to its “Good Business Journey” seems to lie in tatters.   Given the seriousness of the harms done to the animals exploited for profit by a company that professes to know better and has the financial means to effect positive change, this is nothing short of a disgrace.


Consumers need to let Woolworths and Tiger brands know that they do care the suffering of animals in the food industry. Please leave polite comments on Woolworths’ Facebook page

Tweet Woolworths   @WOOLWORTHS_SA or @WoolworthsGBJ & let them politely know if you think they have any #earthcred

Email Woolworths at for attention of Zyda Rylands, CEO of Woolworths

Email Tiger Brands at for attention Andrew Cox, managing executive at Pork Packers



Previous Stories uncovered by NSPCA

Commercial Pig Gassing Operations Questioned:

Listen to the full conversation from CapeTalk’s Breakfast with Kieno Kammies:

Pork Packers responds to NSPCA:

Tiger Brands Defends Gassing Pigs Before Slaughter:

Woolworths Proclaims Kinder to Sows:

Sonia Mountford

Sonia Mountford lived as an expat in the Middle East for a number of years and enjoyed travelling and exposure to third and first world cultures. Her interest in food security began while visiting in Sri Lanka after floods and discovering the politics around Food Aid. As a co-founder of Grass Consumer Action and the only full time member, she spent four years researching the dysfunctional food system in South Africa, investigating, questioning and exposing misleading claims. Although her interests range from food politics to toxins in our food, including harmful ingredients in processed foods and Big Food influence; she soon came to realize that the most important part of the food journey begins on farms. For that reason she spends much of her time visiting farms, learning and talking about constraints and concerns in production methods with farmers. Passionate about nutritional food security she believes higher animal welfare farming practices are not only necessary for ethical reasons but also for human health. She is an ambassador for SOIL, BEES and healthy WATER. Mountford started EATegrity ( “Helping You Find Integrity in the Food Chain” in 2015. Her aim is create greater consumer awareness about the food chain and to encourage transparency in the South African food industry.

7 thoughts on “Is Woolworths being “kinder to sows”?

  • November 30, 2015 at 7:02 am

    FANTASTIC article, Sonia and Elisa. Thank you for all your hard work and thank you for having the courage to go where mainstream journalists fear to tread. The truth is seldom palatable, especially when it has been shrouded in so many marketing lies over the years. I will be sharing this far and wide.
    Bravo! Bravo!

    • January 18, 2016 at 7:43 am

      Thanks Caroline, as your very own experience has shown, mainstream media have quite a bit of catching up to do on what the real issues are in animal farm production in particular. Only wish they could stop regurgitating press releases of industry and actually ask the relevant questions.

  • January 20, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Thank you for this great article. Do you know if there’s any follow-up to Tiger Brand’s use of gas to suffocate (“stun” in their words) pigs before slaughtering them?


  • July 31, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Let me guess … several months later, and Woolworths STILL has nothing to say? How dare they take the moral high ground!


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