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June 10 2006

This is the response customers who complain are currently receiving:

"Tesco entered the Chinese market in September 2004 acquiring a 50 % stake in existing chain of supermarkets based in Shanghai. When entering a new market, our preference is to work with existing retailers who understand the needs and tastes of local customers.

..turtles and frogs are a traditional and popular part of the diet in China, are consumed widely alongside other meats. ...sold by most food retailers in the country.... We are aware that this may be one of a number of habits and tastes that do not translate easily to Western culture and that some people in this country may find them difficult to accept. We believe however that it would be wrong to impose our values on other countries,regardless of local feeling, attitudes and tradition.
The animals undergo an officail inspection before they are sold and we work hard to maintain the highest hygeine standards ....kept separate to avoid cross contamination. It is legal to keep these animals live for sale and customers ask to see them being prepared, which staff are trained to do.
The turtles and frogs that Hymall sells are reared on farms for food production. They are not caught in the wild. They are therefore sourced in a sustainable way and do not cause damage to endangered populations.

Our Standard Operating Procedures require that the animals are slaughtered in ways that immediately kill the animals and minimise the risk of suffering.

We have noted the concerns that you and others have raised about welfare of the animals prior to slaughter. I can assure you that we are complying with all the standards set in China. We recognise that these differ from those in the UK. We cannot simply transpose standards across national borders. However in the light of your feedback we will be looking at what improvements we can make to our policies and procedures in this area."

Our response:

This is deliberately misleading. First, Tesco state they can assure us they are "complying with all the standards set in China" - What standards? There are none. It is legal to skin animals alive in China, it is legal to keep bears for bile production. Animal welfare standards are NON EXISTENT in China, and Tesco know it. Do not be fooled by this nonsense. To see the reality of the "standards" in China, the Asian Animal Protection Network has graphic pages depicting how food animals are treated there.  WARNING: These pages contain highly disturbing and shocking images.

Second, Tesco claim that frogs and turtles are "slaughtered in ways that immediately kill the animals". This is a total lie, and Tesco are clearly trying to mislead their customers on this point. No such method exists that is also compatible with subsequent use for food. 

Even decapitation fails to produce rapid death in a turtle (they have exceptional abilities to withstand extreme anoxia). The recommended veterinary procedure to cause rapid and painless death is an overdose of lethal drugs followed by "pithing", destruction of the brain. In Tesco stores in China the turtles are in essence chopped up alive using a large machette-like tool. Turtles remain conscious and aware throughout this procedure.

Tesco's assurances of  humane treatment and slaughter are absolute rubbish. When handled, a  hard-shelled turtle retracts its head, making instantaneous destruction of the brain impossible. Numerous attempts have been made to develop humane commercial slaughter methods for small/medium sized turtles, and all have failed. None are approved by any government agency or animal welfare organisation anywhere in the world. The World Society for the Protection of Animals concluded that humane slaughter of turtles for food was impractical and impossible. This view has been endorsed by leading veterinary surgeons. Softshell turtles are killed by "de-carapacing" with a sharp knife. This is an agonising procedure in which the living internal organs are exposed and removed. The turtle remains fully conscious throughout and dies - many minutes later - as a result of blood loss. The suffering caused in the process is almost unimaginable.

The process has been described in detail by those actually involved in the trade:

"First we try to get it to stick its head out, and then when it does, we chop it off right there and then. But if we can't, we'll break the shell and then take his head off, which usually takes a minute and a half." Schulke said a turtle's head can live for an hour after being severed, exacerbating the cruelty when the head isn't killed directly with a brain pith. It's grisly, but experts like the University of California-Davis's Joy Mench say there's no better way. (1)

TESCO repeatedly make false and misleading claims regarding animal welfare standards. Nowhere is this more evident than in the treatment turtles receive in their Chinese supermarkets.


Claims of "farm" origin are dubious at best (many "farms" are nothing more than laundering operations for the wild-caught trade) and in any event this in no way addresses the humane issues raised.

"We believe however that it would be wrong to impose our values on other countries,regardless of local feeling, attitudes and tradition"

It is interesting that the board of Tesco clearly agree with the gross abuse of animals that is routine in China, and clearly, by this warped logic,  must also agree with the routine murder of female (human) children that is also part of that "culture". Are Tesco seriously claiming that there are no values that they are not prepared to sacrifice for a quick profit? Merely because something is in current practice within a particular culture, does that make it right? Does that mean we should all join in? Or, should we abide by the standards WE hold to be important? Participating in abuse, whether of humans or animals , is WRONG.

The Tortoise Trust finds Tesco's attitude ethically repugnant and morally bankrupt. They certainly won't win any philosophical debating awards with ludicrous, self-serving arguments like this!

A full campaign targetting Tesco will be launched shortly.



(1) Culture vs. Cruelty by Karla Solheim, Mother Jones Magazine, San Francisco. March 2000.