Tesco Turtles – The Selling and Butchering of Live Turtles in Tesco China

British based supermarket giants, Tesco, moved into the Chinese market in 2004 as part of their international expansion strategy.  However, from the day the very first Tesco branded store opened in Beijing, Tesco have been engaged in the cruel custom of selling live turtles.

At the customer’s request, turtles can be either butchered in store, usually by cut cutting off the animals head, or sold live, permitting the customer to kill the animal any way they like.

Our Concerns – Welfare

Tesco’s standard practice of killing turtles in store is by decapitation; however, veterinary and scientific guidelines explicitly state that decapitating turtles is inhumane. This is because, whilst decapitation may sever the head from the body, reptiles are capable of surviving prolonged periods of anoxia (absence of oxygen from the brain). As a result, Turtles will experience awareness and severe pain for up to an hour after decapitation.

Furthermore, Tesco has no control over the behaviour of customers who wish to buy live turtles for home slaughter. Turtles may suffer for days in severely inappropriate conditions before the customer kills the animal, common methods for doing so include dismembering, eviscerating or boiling the animals alive, each causing the animal to experience severe pain before death.

Conditions on turtle farms and during transport are poor and animals are over-crowded, which affects their welfare. In-store display, typically in tightly bound nets on ice, is painful and distressing for this sub-tropical to temperate, cold-blooded species, presenting additional serious welfare concerns.

Our Concerns – Conservation

Two fifths of the world’s tortoises and freshwater turtles and three quarters of Asian species are already threatened with extinction as a result of human consumption. China’s booming economy and one billion-plus population fuels the demise of turtle species across Asia and beyond. It is estimated that up to 20 million turtles are consumed in China, alone, each year.

Any action that endorses or participates in this devastating trade pushes wild turtles one step closer to extinction.  No western company should have a hand in the extermination of these imperilled animals. By selling freshwater turtles for food Tesco is acting as an accessory to the on-going demise of these species.

Our Concerns – Contravening of Policies

Tesco’s Corporate Responsibility Policy stated that the company is “committed to conducting business in an ethical and socially responsible manner”, and that Tesco uses “up-to-date knowledge of research, ethics, scientific facts and legislation to ensure this happens”.

If Tesco were to treat turtles in the UK as they are doing in China, the company would be breaking its own ethical standards, and would face prosecution for cruelty to animals. Mutilating and boiling animals alive is unacceptable regardless of where in the world it takes place.

Our Concerns – Human Heath

Turtles are likely to carry salmonella, which can cause serious health problems and death in humans. Care for the Wild argues that for this reason alone, Tesco should stop selling turtles for food.

What happened?

Care for the Wild provided Tesco with extensive evidence demonstrating that turtles suffer extreme pain through being butchered alive and on the lack of sustainability in turtle farming.

  • After assessing our information and carrying out their own research, Tesco introduced changes to address some of the animal welfare problems associated with selling live turtles.
  • Tesco no longer sells hard-shell turtles, because of humane killing concerns related to access to the animals’ head.
  • Tesco claims they will now sell one species, the Chinese soft-shell turtle, Pelodiscus sinensis.
  • Tesco states that they have replaced decapitation as a slaughter method with decapitation followed by crushing of the skull, which significantly reduces the animals’ time to death.

What you can do?

If you would like to let Tesco know what you think of their policy on the sale of live turtles in China, please write to their CEO, Mr Philip Clark:

Philip Clarke, CEO Tesco, Tesco House, PO Box 44, Delamare Road, Cheshunt, Herts, EN8 9SL or email

Further Reading

You can find out more about all of our previous campaigns on our Campaigns Materials page.