The Board of Directors Tesco Plc New Tesco House Delamare Road Cheshunt Hertfordshire EN8 9SL
Live turtle and amphibian sales in China
We write on behalf of our 3,500 UK members who will be shocked and sickened to learn that your Chinese operation is actively involved in inflicting some of the most extreme forms of animal cruelty imaginable. The level of suffering caused to turtles and frogs in Chinese markets is well documented. These animals are shipped and handled with no regard to their welfare and without any attempt to minimise their suffering. They are maintained in-store under totally unacceptable conditions, and are killed in a grossly inhumane and barbaric fashion. These animals are essentially dissected alive. They have highly developed sensory capabilities, and without question suffer the most extreme pain and distress over an extended period.
It is frankly revolting that any UK company should be promoting this kind of thing.
Should such actions be repeated in the UK it would be a serious criminal offence for which you would undoubtedly be prosecuted. We can only presume that because you are committing these offences in China, you believe that it will escape the notice of your UK customers. We are determined to ensure that this is not the case. We are writing to all of our members to inform them of your direct involvement in this vile trade and to urge them to shop elsewhere.
In addition to the truly disgraceful welfare aspects of this trade, the consumption of turtles specifically in China has resulted in the near extinction of a large number of species. I would draw your attention to the following highly reputable reports:
You will note that these reports are endorsed by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, the IUCN, and TRAFFIC International, and have been prepared by the top specialists in this field. There is absolutely no doubt whatever that the trade Tesco is now involved with is ecologically disastrous, is totally unsustainable, and is causing immense (and unrecoverable) damage to endangered turtle populations in the region.
The trade in frogs has also caused widespread ecological damage, and has directly increased reliance on, and use of, toxic pesticides in those regions where the animals are collected. Frogs consume a significant quantity of insects and their larvae, and thus act a natural form of pest control. Once removed from the equation, pest populations (particularly mosquitoes) multiply rapidly, leaving local people with no other recourse than to use chemical pesticides. EFTA (the European Fair Trade Association) has specifically identified trade in frogs and frog’s legs as acutely ecologically damaging and has used this to illustrate case studies on how unsustainable exploitation of this type damages the environment, local economies, and human health. In addition, Compassion in World Farming (www.ciwf.org) has reported extensively on the trade in frogs for human consumption and has condemned it on both humane and environmental grounds, stating that they are “utterly opposed” to it.
Your company has sought to present a “green” image to UK consumers. You have also sought to promote a range of “ethical” and vegetarian products. Your corporate website states: “We will continue to promote high standards of animal welfare” and “We demand high standards of animal welfare”.
Your activities in China reveal these statements to be completely false. You are not promoting animal welfare; you are actively promoting the most obscene levels of cruelty. I would venture to suggest that no vegetarian or consumer who cares at all about the environment or about humane issues could with any conscience set one foot in your stores while you continue to be involved in this particularly horrific and destructive trade.
I would further point out that the human health implications of trade in exotic species is extremely serious. These animals carry multiple bacterial, parasitic and viral pathogens as a matter of course. There is no effective way to eliminate these. As we have seen so dramatically illustrated with both SARS and avian influenza the consumption of wildlife and its maintenance in close contact with other food sources presents a massive danger to human health worldwide. Turtles and frogs are notorious carriers of such pathogens. I was personally involved in the preparation of a report (in 1998) that looked at this issue in the context of Chinese markets in San Francisco:
The situation in mainland China is even worse, with scant regard to hygiene at all stages, and uncontrolled movements of animals in close proximity to other foodstuffs. Make no mistake, whatever “window dressing” you do in terms of hygiene, the very presence of live wildlife in a food store is a recipe for a human health disaster of epic proportions. By engaging in this trade, you not only endanger lives in China, you endanger them worldwide.
We shall shortly forward a list of specific questions we have concerning your activities with regard to the sale and treatment of live turtles and amphibians in your Chinese operation.
In summary, I believe that our members (and the UK public at large) will be utterly horrified when they begin to realise the full implications and details of your involvement in this trade. It is our intention to bring this to the attention of any many people as possible, and to encourage everyone to take whatever action they can to convince you that such an involvement is totally unacceptable.
Do the school children that participate in your computer voucher scheme realise that you are involved in this? Do the vegetarians who purchase your products know? Do shoppers who care about ethical trade and the environment know? Do the people who purchase your pet insurance and financial services know? They soon will.
I have personally been a regular and loyal customer of Tesco’s for very many years. I enclose my Tesco Clubcard as evidence of my past support. Cancel my Clubcard membership with immediate effect. I will now do my shopping elsewhere with companies who have a more acceptable ethical policy and who are not involved inflicting depraved levels of suffering on sentient animals and causing species to plunge headlong into extinction. I will be asking all of our members and supporters to do the same thing. I realise that you are a vast company, and that individually, it may seem as though the consumer is powerless to influence your activities, but collectively, we can have an effect – and we will.
We are bringing this matter to the urgent attention of all conservation, wildlife, vegetarian, Animal Rights, animal welfare and ethical trade organisations in the UK and beyond. Potential customers of Tesco have an absolute right to know what kind of activities and behaviour the profits from their purchases are being used to promote. As a leading tortoise and turtle organisation, and as concerned individuals, we have a duty to do everything in our power to protect and conserve these animals, and I can think of no worse form of cruelty, abuse and grossly unethical exploitation than what is taking place in China, in your stores.
This campaign is just beginning, and it will not end until you have renounced all involvement, direct or indirect, in this appalling trade.
A. C. Highfield
Co-Founder, Tortoise Trust
What you can do
(contains information on live frog and turtle sales, plus TESCO's business strategies in China)
Visit the Tescopoly anti-Tesco coalition to discover more about the negative impacts Tesco is having on economies and the environment
"The last things the turtles see in the Wal-Mart megastore in northern Beijing
are bright fluorescent lights, masked shop assistants and, if they crane their
necks over the edge of their plastic container, a chalk board offering them for
sale at the bargain price of 39,8 yuan (about $5) each.
According to the shop assistant, a small minority of the 100 turtles sold every day could also expect a brief respite. “A few customers like to take them home alive so they can play with them for a few days before making them into soup,” she said." (1)
It seems that despite the various "ethical standards" claims all of these companies make, the reality is very different. Away from the Western media, and out of sight of their US and European customers, most of whom would be horrified at such blatant abuse their behaviour really gives the game away...
(1) Walmart Leads the Race for China by Jonathan Watts. Mail & Guardian Online (www.mg.co.za)