No little piggies? UK publishing firm in stew over report it banned pig, pork mentions

Dec. 12, 2014: Young pigs are seen at the segregated early wean swine nursery at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.

Dec. 12, 2014: Young pigs are seen at the segregated early wean swine nursery at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.  (Reuters)

When a British reporter said Oxford University Press was banning any reference to pigs or pork products, a huge squeal went up.

The implication was that it was to avoid offending anyone of the Muslim or Jewish faiths but prominent members of both communities said the purported guidelines were ridiculous.

Then a spokeswoman for the venerable OUP said hold on a minute: books about little oinkers are still being published and there is no blanket ban on pork products in its titles.

So how did things get in such a stew?

Word of the issue was first announced by a reporter for BBC radio in the United Kingdom. Jim Naughtie said on a Radio 4 program, during a discussion on censorship in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack, that he had a letter recently received by an author detailing the guidelines.

“I've got a letter here that was sent out by OUP to an author doing something for young people,” Naughtie said on the program. “Among the things prohibited in the text that was commissioned by OUP was the following: pigs plus sausages, or anything else that could be perceived as pork.

“That’s absolute utter nonsense."

- Khalid Mahmood, a Muslim member of UK Parliament

“Now, if a respectable publisher, tied to an academic institution, is saying you've got to write a book in which you cannot mention pigs because some people might be offended, it’s just ludicrous. It is just a joke,” he said.

Naughtie’s wife is an author who is in talks with OUP for an educational book series, but it was not immediately clear if she was the one who received the letter.

Official for the Oxford University Press did not immediately respond to requests for comment but Jane Harley, primary publishing director for the organization, answered concerns in a letter published by the Guardian in which she claimed there is no ban on references to pigs and pork.

“Given that our editorial guidelines that reference pigs and pork have been in place for as long as I can remember, little did I imagine that they would attract international headlines claiming that the Oxford University Press had banned sausages,” she said in the letter. “To clarify, OUP does not have a blanket ban on pork products in its titles, and we do still publish books about pigs.”

She added,"What we do, however, is consider avoiding references to a range of topics that could be considered sensitive – in a way that does not compromise quality, or negatively impact learning. So, for example, if animals are depicted shown in a background illustration, we would think carefully about which animals to choose.”

Prominent members of the Muslim and Jewish communities said the purported guidelines are ridiculous.

“That’s absolute utter nonsense,” Khalid Mahmood, a Muslim member of UK Parliament said according to The Telegraph. “And when people go too far, that brings the whole discussion into disrepute.”

A spokesman for OUP told the paper in a statement, "OUP's commitment to its mission of academic and educational excellence is absolute. Our materials are sold in nearly 200 countries, and as such, and without compromising our commitment in any way, we encourage some authors of educational materials respectfully to consider cultural differences and sensitivities."