Pig farmers hope ban on sow stalls will buy loyalty

By Derek Cheng

Some stalls are so small the pigs can't even turn around. Photo / NZ Open Rescue
Some stalls are so small the pigs can't even turn around. Photo / NZ Open Rescue

Pig farmers are hoping New Zealanders will be willing to buy ham, pork and bacon made from locally farmed, happy pigs over cheaper imported products, following changes to welfare rules that are expected to push up prices.

Announcing the new Animal Welfare (Pigs) Code, which comes into effect tomorrow, Agriculture Minister David Carter said the public backlash over mistreatment of pigs had played a significant role in the decision to ban sow stalls in pig farming by December 2015.

Media coverage of pigs in stalls so small that they cannot turn around and relentless lobbying from animal welfare groups saw about 18,000 public submissions for the code.

Green MP Sue Kedgley said she was "over the moon".

"It's been 10 years since I've been campaigning. It is great news, particularly, of course, for the pigs.

"Now our thoughts turn to getting hens out of their cages."

The pork industry board acknowledged the mood of the people in doing an about-face and supporting yesterday's announcement, but pig welfare advocacy group SAFE called for the Government to ban farrowing crates too.

John Hellstrom, chairman of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, said farrowing crates would probably be banned when a cost-effective alternative was developed in the next five to 10 years.

Meanwhile, greater restrictions will be in place for the use of farrowing crates and sow stalls.

"Currently sows on a lot of farms in New Zealand spend their entire lives either in a sow stall or a farrowing crate or a mating stall. They can't turn around for their entire lives, once they've started breeding," Dr Hellstrom said.

"As from [December] 2012, that will drop to about six months, and from 2015 it will drop to about 14 weeks."

Only about 40 per cent of pig farmers still use sow stalls.

Mr Carter said the compliance cost of the changes would push up prices "at the margins", and it presented a unique marketing opportunity for the industry to sell its product as ethically superior.

But the pork industry board said the extra costs will be more than $20 million, which will have to be recovered.

"We do expect that we may have people exiting the industry who don't feel they can make the change," said NZ Pork chief executive Sam McIvor.

Earlier this year he appeared before a select committee strongly advocating in favour of sow stalls, but said yesterday the industry had listened to public opinion.

"This is about responding to consumers, and that's exactly why the industry is taking this step, and we're asking for loyalty from consumers for taking that step," Mr McIvor said.

"That's the challenge we're putting in front of New Zealand consumers."

About half of the pork products available in New Zealand are imported. The board estimates that at about 700,000kg a week.

HAPPIER ANIMALS

* Farrowing crates: Used when a sow gives birth to keep it from crushing her piglets, which can still access their mother.

* Sow stalls: Used when a sow first becomes pregnant for protection as pigs can become aggressive during this period.

* Stalls are generally about 200cm by 60cm, and the sows are so confined that they cannot turn around.

What the new code does:

* Sow stalls can be used for four weeks per gestation (from December 2012); presently there is no time limit.

* Farrowing crates can be used for five weeks per gestation, instead of six weeks.

* Sow stalls banned from December 2015 in favour of group housing: a large pen for a number of sows.

* Farrowing crates will probably be banned when a cost-effective alternative is developed.

What does this mean:

* Prices will probably rise. Pig farmers hope people will fork out more cash for locally farmed happy pigs than for cheaper imported pork products.

* Look for the label: 100 per cent NZ Pork.

- NZ Herald

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