Red Tractor can no longer claim its pork is “high-welfare pork” after the advertising watchdog upheld complaints from animal welfare campaigners about a recent ad push.

The AHDB claimed the statement was based on comparing British-produced pork with pork imported from the European Union. But the Advertising Standards Authority said that would not be obvious enough to consumers.

It agreed with the AHDB that UK minimum welfare standards exceeded EU minimum standards and – and that the Red Tractor scheme had good compliance rates.

But it decided that “because it was unclear that the claim ‘Red Tractor pork is high-welfare pork’ was a comparative claim with imported pork, it would be understood to be a claim about the general level of pig welfare in the UK”.

“We considered that the claim implied that there were no concerns about the welfare of pigs in the UK, whereas some areas were unlikely to be regarded as ‘high’ welfare. We therefore concluded that the claim was misleading,” the ASA ruled.

The claim was used as part of the AHDB’s ‘Pork not porkies’ campaign on posters, via press and social media. It can no longer be used in its current form.

Bpex, which is part of the AHDB, said it accepted the ASA’s opinion “regarding this small technicality” and would continue promoting its standards “in a way that is absolutely clear to consumers”.

Red Tractor said it was pleased the ASA had recognised its standards were higher than minimum EU standards but  “slightly disappointed” the ASA felt “this obvious reference point” should have been  made more clear in its adverts.

“The fact is that much of the imported pork that we see on shelves is produced in systems that would be illegal in the UK, let alone below Red Tractor standards,” Red Tractor said.  “Even changes to EU pig welfare regulations that come into effect from January 2013 still won’t be on a par with the Red Tractor standards.”

Compassion in World Farming, which complained to the ASA about the campaign, said the ASA’s ruling was a victory for consumers.

“Claims of high welfare are clearly a lucrative marketing tool, but in this case they were overblown and misleading to the consumer,” said Joyce D’Silva. “The ‘pork not porkies’ claim on the advert makes this a particularly embarrassing own-goal for Red Tractor pork.”

The RSPCA, which runs the Freedom Food higher-welfare scheme, said it shared the British pig industry’s concern about lower welfare standards on imported pork, but added Red Tractor standards still allowed pigs to be kept in conditions it considered unacceptable.

“There are some really good farms in the Red Tractor scheme, which go well above the basic scheme requirements to provide their pigs with higher welfare conditions,” the RSPCA said.

“But there are others merely working to the minimum requirements and therefore failing to meet all the pigs’ physical and behavioural needs. We would urge shoppers who care about animal welfare to look for the blue and white Freedom Food logo. That way they can be sure the farms have been inspected to strict RSPCA standards.”