Tesco reported to watchdog over ‘grossly misleading’ claim that buying milk helps cows

Thousands object to supermarket giant’s slogan, saying taking calves from mothers is cruel

The Tesco signs that caused upset

SHOPPERS concerned about animal welfare are fighting Tesco over advertising that claims every pint of milk bought helps care for dairy cows.

More than 7,000 people have signed a petition calling on Britain’s biggest supermarket to drop the in-store signs, saying they are misleading because the chain does nothing out of the ordinary to aid cow welfare.

And campaigners have reported Tesco to the Advertising Standards Authority, saying the slogan “seeks to create an image of Tesco dairy products that simply doesn’t reflect reality”.

Intensively farmed cows suffer more ill health, say activists

The watchdog’s rules state adverts must be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”.

Animal activists say both Marks and Spencer and Waitrose have higher standards for dairy production than Tesco, as both chains insist farmers who supply them keep their cows outdoors for a minimum of 100 days a year. Tesco has no such guarantees, so its supply farmers may keep their animals indoors all year round.

The slogan “Every pint helps care for dairy cows” features on notices on fridge shelves in Tesco stores, showing bottles of milk arranged in the shape of a cow’s head.

Heidi Down, who launched the petition, says she has also emailed the chain’s chief executive Dave Lewis to complain.

Buying Tesco milk doesn’t mean the cows get extra comfort, will be allowed to keep their calves or graze

— White Lies

The petition says: “Tesco’s milk does not provide animal welfare standards (or ‘care’) that justify their statement” and “the production and harvesting of milk is not beneficial to animal welfare and does not therefore constitute ‘care’”.

White Lies, a vegan campaign group, which has lodged an objection with the ASA, is urging followers to also protest directly to the supermarket giant, branding the slogan “appalling and grossly misleading”.

A spokesman said: “Buying Tesco milk only means that farmers from Tesco-aligned farms get paid what they’re due but it doesn’t in any way contribute to better care for the cows. It doesn’t mean the cows get extra comfort, will be allowed to keep their calves or graze.

‘Traumatic’ separation

“As soon as a cow’s productivity drops it will be sent to slaughter as [it is] no longer profitable and no amount of purchased milk will change that. Therefore these adverts should be removed from Tesco stores immediately.”

The group says modern dairy cows “lead very short lives, exhausted by the burden of cycles of pregnancies and lactations at about five years of age” and that calves are taken from their mothers at 12-48 hours after birth.

According to White Lies, the separation is traumatic for both calf and cow, and each will bellow for the other for days afterwards.

Some supporters have photoshopped photos of the adverts so the slogan reads “Every pint helps torture dairy cows”.

One supporter, Sarah Leeson, wrote to Tesco on Facebook: “Unless by ‘care’ you mean the rape, emotional torture and enslavement of dairy cows, your advert is not factual and therefore is breaking the law.”

Another, Carla Tilley, said: “I don’t know who thought up for advertising a product that causes unjustified pain to an animal physically and psychologically,” and she warned unless the signs were removed, vegans would patrol stores covering them up.

‘Better labelling’

Two months ago, World Animal Protection warned against the rise by stealth of mega-dairies, in which cows never have access to outdoor pasture. The charity’s report claimed one tactic involved expanding first, then applying for planning permission afterwards.

George White, of World Animal Protection, said Tesco’s notices highlighted a need for greater transparency for consumers. “This controversy goes to show why we need better milk labelling, including providing consumers with clearer information about how their milk has been produced and whether cows have had the freedom to graze,” he said.

Cows kept indoors all year round suffer more lameness, mastitis and lesions than those allowed to graze outside, WAP says, and Tesco is doing no more than most retailers for welfare standards.

Boycott

Britain’s Vegan Society said in an open letter to Tesco chiefs: “The milk industry is one of the cruellest and most exploitative in farming. At best these labels are misleading; at worst they are morally unacceptable and deeply offensive.

“In order to keep producing milk for humans, dairy cows are consistently made pregnant. This is done forcibly, typically through artificial insemination.”

It added: “Stop selling a lie. Cows do not need milking and farmers are not doing them a favour. This campaign has understandably outraged thousands of your customers.” Some people were boycotting Tesco as a result, the letter claimed.

Code of practice

Tesco declined to comment when asked, but told one protester that its dairy products came from farmers with whom it had built direct relationships with; that calves “would be reared on cows’ milk until they are weaned at an age when other feeds can take over” and that it is in farmers’ interests to ensure calves had good-quality feed.

“Our sustainable dairy farmers report on the health and wellbeing of their cows regularly and we agree intervention levels for cases such as lameness, cleanliness and abrasions, where our farmers would be guided to improve.”

Farmers all met the Tesco livestock code of practice, it added.

Tesco’s ethical standards have been questioned recently by activists over other issues. The National Farmers Union reported the supermarket giant at the weekend to Trading Standards for using fake farm brand names, such as “Woodside Farms” to give a rustic feel to produce.

And after months of pressure by campaigners led by 14-year-old Lucy Gavaghan, the supermarket last week finally gave in and announced it would stop selling eggs from caged hens by 2025. More than 280,000 people signed Lucy’s petition calling for the store to end its support for the “cruel, inhumane” keeping of hens in cages the size of an A4 sheet of paper.

In Compassion in World Farming’s food business awards, which reward retailers that commit to higher animal welfare standards, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer and the Co-op have all been past winners or been commended; Tesco has not received any awards.

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