Saving threatened habitats worldwide

The lid’s off the can of Worms

22 July, 2013 - 10:36 -- John Burton

I asked Tesco (last week) for their current position on selling live turtles (terrapins) in China, and foie gras in Hungary. Both cruelty issues, and not normally a WLT issue, but in this instance, I think most of those who support WLT would be appalled at the attitude of Tesco, clearly putting profit before any concerns about the conservation status of wild-caught turtle, or the cruelty of force feeding geese. The response that “Turtles are a popular and traditional part of the Chinese diet” is like saying badger baiting was a popular part of British tradition, and for that reason alone should be allowed to continue.

The WLT is not a campaigning or lobbying organisation, so all I will do is publish Tesco’s response, and in a personal capacity suggest that others who agree with me take up the issue.

Here is Tesco’s response to me

Dear John

We appreciate you are concerned about the animal welfare issues associated with the sale of turtles in China. We have a track record of considering evidence, working with others and listening to their concerns. As a result, we have made several significant improvements to the way turtles are sold in our stores, such as making sure that the way in which they are handled is to the highest possible standard.

This approach to animal welfare and the sale of live turtles - seeking out research, acting on it and educating customers - is unprecedented by any retailer operating in China and we hope that these actions will help to drive up standards throughout the supply chain.
Some organisations are asking us to stop selling live turtles completely. While we are committed to upholding the very important issue of animal welfare, we also need to balance different cultural attitudes, in this case respecting the different traditions, expectations and values on this issue that exists in China.
Turtles are a popular and traditional part of the Chinese diet and, having addressed these important animal welfare concerns, we continue to sell turtles in our stores in China.  

Foie gras production in Hungary is a traditional local industry and is a popular part of the local diet. Production practices for the brands we do stock must conform with Hungarian and EU law, and must be controlled and approved by local vets.    

We recognise that this is a difficult issue, and we do not sell foie gras in our UK stores. Tesco is known for improving welfare standards in the countries in which we operate and we remain committed to improving standards of animal welfare across our business.  

In doing this, we do however have to take into account differing cultural attitudes in different countries, in this case the different traditions, expectations and values of our Hungarian customers.  

We believe that a decision to stop selling foie gras in Hungary would be seen as out of touch with local customers and would have no meaningful impact on the production or consumption of the product.

Thank you for your interest.

Kind regards

Belinda Mollison
Tesco Customer Service


Submitted by Mal Scott on

Sadly, the suffering experienced by the animals in these cases is not influenced by cultural preferences or differences.

Submitted by Patricia O'Sullivan on

Tesco's answer is lamentable. They are defending the indefensible and their claim that they would be considered out of touch in Hungary if they did not sell fois gras demonstrates their total disregard for animal welfare. Their comments that the turtles they sell in their stores in China are handled to a very high standard is sickening. They will do anything to make a profit, irrespective of the animal cruelty involved. Animals should not be sold live - it extends their painful end and it is therefore a disgrace. Shame on Tescos. But hey, do they care about what we think? Hardly, as long as they can continue to sell their products.

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