Time for action on pig welfare

2010 should be the year in which speedy steps are taken to end the cruel confinement of pigs. Photo / Wairarapa Times-Age
2010 should be the year in which speedy steps are taken to end the cruel confinement of pigs. Photo / Wairarapa Times-Age

The Government should not put the financial interests of a small group of pig farmers ahead of the economic interests of New Zealand as whole in drawing up new rules for the treatment of pigs.

Instead, it should focus on protecting this country's image in international markets, and look at the premiums which consumers are prepared to pay for cruelty-free products.

The Code of Welfare for Pigs is being reviewed at present, with public submissions closing on 16 April.

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), which has responsibility for carrying out the review, in early March released a new draft code of pig welfare for consultation.

The document's main proposals are that:

* The use of farrowing crates should be limited to four weeks post-farrowing from the date the code is issued

* The use of dry sow stalls should be limited to four weeks post-mating from 31 December 2010

* The use of dry sow stalls should be prohibited from "a date to be determined following the consultation process."

NAWAC states that economic work carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry suggests that the industry should be able to phase out dry sow stalls "as early as" 2017 without causing significant economic harm to pork producers.

In blunt terms, what this means is that pigs will for years to come continue to be kept in the confined conditions in which many presently live out their miserable lives.

The pork industry has shown itself to be adept at lobbying to delay changes, while NAWAC has demonstrated that it is prepared to cave in to the industry when challenged.

That happened late last year when the industry threatened legal action if the draft code was released, and NAWAC meekly delayed the release.
And the Government, to date, has taken no concrete action, despite its rhetoric.

New Zealanders were appalled last year when they saw the Sunday programme which revealed the conditions in which some pigs are kept in this country.

I wrote to Agriculture Minister David Carter at the time condemning the laws which permitted this.

Mr Carter, in a letter to me dated 30 June 2009 said that "I was equally disturbed by the images shown and I found them unacceptable. As the Minister of Agriculture, I have made it clear that animal welfare is an absolute priority for this Government."

However, the cold reality is that, despite the public uproar caused by the programme, pigs are still being kept in exactly the same conditions around New Zealand.

NAWAC continues to argue that stalls and crates cannot be phased out until other "viable options" for pig farming are developed.
This is nonsense.

All NAWAC members have to do is to speak to free range pig farmers, who will tell them that they are - right now - successfully farming pigs without confining them.

One free range farmer accurately described the claims about problems with non-stall farming as "poppycock."

NAWAC in 2004 said that it supported the phasing out of sow stalls and farrowing crates.

That was six years ago and nothing has changed. It is time now for action.

2010 should be the year in which speedy steps are taken to end the cruel confinement of pigs.

The Government should announce immediate moves to ban sow stalls and farrowing crates, with total prohibitions on their use to take effect by the end of 2013.

The Sunday programme was sold overseas and the instantaneous power of the internet means that only a few key strokes are required for disturbing images of New Zealand's treatment of animals to be flashed to markets around the world.

European and American consumers are highly sensitive to animal welfare issues, and allowing the confinement of pigs to continue will cost this country dearly in both reputation and export losses in the years to come.

* Catriona MacLennan is a South Auckland barrister.

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