Its rich and fatty taste has made it a staple at dinner parties and hip bistros, but a new report shows production methods for Parma ham are less than savoury.
More often than not, the pigs that produce the popular cured meat are forced to endure ‘immense suffering’ at farms across Europe, an animal welfare organisation has claimed.
These farms keep pregnant sows in small metal crates, known as ‘sow stalls’, that restrict their movement to just sitting down and standing up.
An investigation by Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) has found EU producers are still using these cruel sow stalls, which have been banned in the UK since 1999.
However, the ham created from pigs at these farms is still being shipped to the UK and ending up on supermarket shelves – a flaw in the UK government’s ban.
Graphic video footage captured by CiWF shows the sows being artificially inseminated and giving birth to their young, which they cannot properly tend to due to their cramped cages.
Parma ham is a strongly flavoured Italian cured ham, eaten uncooked and thinly sliced. A new investigation shows pig farms around Europe, some of which make ‘luxury’ ham including Parma ham, are subjecting pigs to ‘cruelty, torment and frustration’
European farms are keeping pregnant sows in small metal crates, known as ‘sow stalls’, that restrict their movement to just sitting down and standing up (pictured)
CiWF, an animal welfare organisation based in Godalming, Surrey, conducted an investigation that involved visits to 16 farms in four different EU countries – Italy, France, Spain and Poland – between February 2022 and May 2022.
WHAT IS PARMA HAM?
Parma ham is a strongly flavoured Italian cured ham, eaten uncooked and thinly sliced.
It is sliced from the rear haunches (buttock and thigh) of the pig, which is fattened before slaughter.
Pig farms involve artificial insemination of sows (adult female pigs) to produce young that are slaughtered for the meat.
It’s usually the males that are fattened for slaughter – females are likely to be kept for breeding rather than slaughter for meat.
Resulting video footage, which sheds light on the ‘cruelty, torment and frustration’ that pigs are having to endure, comes from 14 farms; at two of the Italian farms it was not possible to record images.
CiWF’s investigation found sows spend several weeks in cages so small they prevent practically all movement apart from standing up and lying down, endure lying in their own excrement and urine, and experience the ‘torment’ of being unable to properly nurture their young because of the restriction of the cage.
The selected farms belong to different supply chains, from those supplying the ‘premium’ European consortiums like Prosciutto di Parma and Jambon de Bayonne, to those farms supplying conventional pig meat producers.
‘People who pay a premium for products like Parma and Bayonne hams are likely to be shocked to discover that these “high-end” products are from systems that keep animals in such cruel cages,’ said Sarah Moyes, senior campaigns manager.
‘Our investigation reveals that these farms are no better than standard ones – the animals are still caged for a significant part of the lives, just like around 85 per cent of the EU’s sows.
‘They are forced to live unimaginably miserable lives – they can’t move around, properly nurture their young, or express natural behaviours, and they’re so frustrated they resort to abnormal behaviours like bar biting.’
Some of the farms investigated were rearing for Parma and Bayonne production, while others were for more general hams.
We found the same basic problems in all,’ Moyes said. ‘The point is that these luxury products come from pigs reared in the same cruel conditions.’
Moyes said CiWF would like to see all retailers, producers and food companies, make cage-free commitments for food production.
‘Rather than buying Parma and Bayonne products, we encourage consumers to consider buying meat from free-range or organic producers here in the UK – where pigs are kept outdoors, rather than in cages – or opt for a plant-based alternative,’ she said.
CiWF’s investigation found sows spend several weeks in cages so small they prevent practically all movement apart from standing up and lying down, endure lying in their own excrement and urine, and experience the ‘torment’ of being unable to properly nurture their young because of the restriction of the cage
CiWF’s investigation involved visits to 16 farms in four different EU countries – Italy, France, Spain and Poland – between February and May this year
Although the UK has banned sow stalls, still permitted in the country are farrowing crates – metal crates that confine the sow to reduce the risk of her lying on and crushing her newborn piglets.
Today approximately almost 60 per cent of UK sows are kept in farrowing crates around the time of giving birth, according to the RSPCA.
CiWF found that sows kept in farrowing crates are forced to endure the same squalid conditions as those in sow stalls, and perform the same frustrated nesting behaviour.
The UK government has already pledged to examine the use of cages for laying hens and farrowing crates for pigs.
Farrowing crates – metal crates that confine the sow to reduce the risk of her lying on and crushing her newborn piglets – are permitted in the UK and Europe
The EU has previously announced a ban on caged farming to come into effect by the end of 2023 – something CiWF has urged the EU to introduce ‘without delay’.
Around 8 million hams branded ‘Parma’ are produced in Italy every year – 36 per cent of these are exported – and the US is the top export market, where 757,000 hams were sold in 2021.
Just under half of all exported Parma ham is sold within the EU, although the UK is the top export market for pre-sliced Parma ham, CiWF said.
Around 1 million Bayonne hams – another cured ham that takes its name from the French port city of Bayonne – are produced in France every year.
Bayonne hams are reported to be exported to countries including the US, Germany, Belgium, Japan and the UK, CiWF said.
MailOnline has contacted the ‘Big Five’ British supermarkets – Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose – for comment on the issue.
CiWF would like to see all retailers, producers and food companies, make cage-free commitments for food production
A spokesperson for Sainsbury’s, which stocks Parma ham but not Bayonne ham, said: ‘All our suppliers have to meet strict welfare standards and be certified under one of our approved farm assurance schemes, in addition to complying with EU legislation.’
A spokesperson for Waitrose also said the company is working to ensure that all its farms end the use of sow stalls by 2025.
‘Animal welfare is key to our brand,’ Waitrose said in a statement. ‘We have lead the way for pig welfare in the UK and now we want to ensure that sow stalls have no place in our supply chain by 2025.’
Asda, which also sells Parma but not Bayonne ham, said: ‘All of our meat is supplied according to the relevant EU and UK legislation.’
Tesco said: ‘Animal welfare is incredibly important to us and all of our pigs are reared to recognised farm assurance standards, in addition to meeting our Tesco Welfare Approved (TWA) livestock requirements, which are independently audited.
‘As part of these standards we do not allow the use of sow stalls in our supply chains.’
Morrisons is yet to respond.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF HAM AND BACON
The word ham derives from the Old English ham and refers specifically to a cut of meat from the hog’s hind legs.
China takes credit for curing the first pork leg back in 4900 BC.
Enthusiasm for ham spread throughout ancient Europe with the Romans, who probably learned of the practice while trading with the Chinese.
Modern methods of curing bacon were invented in the mid-19th century by Irish man Henry Denny.
He began to cure bacon using ice in 1854. It made the bacon more palatable by using far less salt for preservation.
The history of Parma ham goes back to 100 BC, when Cato the ‘Censor’ first mentioned the extraordinary flavour of the air cured ham made around the town of Parma in Italy.
The legs were left to dry, greased with a little oil and could age without spoiling. A tasty meat was obtained which could be eaten over a period of time while maintaining its pleasant flavour.
Even earlier, in 5 BC, in the Etruscan Po river valley, salted preserved pork legs were traded with the rest of Italy and with Greece.
Source: The Spruce Eats/Let’s Look Again/ Emilia-Romagna blog