By ANNE BESTON
Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton delivered a strong warning to pork farmers yesterday on the phasing-out of sow stalls.
Mr Sutton, who has been accused by animal welfare groups of not doing enough to persuade pork producers to get rid of the sow stalls, told pig farmers they had to "take a good, hard, long look at yourselves".
"I cannot believe that phasing out sow crates by 2006 is an impossible target to achieve," he said.
Pork producers will vote today on the abolition of the controversial stalls at their annual general meeting in Wellington.
Ahead of the conference, SPCA national president Peter Mason threatened pig farmers with a consumer boycott if they did not vote to end using the crates.
"Any use of the sow stall is completely unacceptable on animal welfare grounds," he said in an open letter to the farmers.
The SPCA has been in negotiations with the industry for over a year and wants sow stalls gone by 2006.
The pork industry says it needs until 2012 - a date matching moves in the European Union.
However, there were indications that farmers wanted a six-week confinement in the crates after mating - instead of the EU's four weeks, Mr Sutton said.
The numbers of farmers using the crates had continued to fall since an industry survey in 1998 showed fewer than half did. It was predicted 80 per cent would not use them within five years.
"So what's holding up the remaining 20 per cent?" Mr Sutton asked.
SPCA national campaign co-ordinator Hans Kriek said about 20,000 adult sows in New Zealand were locked in the crates, which measured 200cm by 60cm. They are confined in the crates for about 16 weeks during pregnancy.
Pork Industry Board chairman Neil Managh told farmers they were in a good position to meet the demands.
While most farmers agreed there were animal welfare benefits in housing sows in stalls, particularly immediately after mating, they had to face the fact that an increasingly large number of consumers found the practice unacceptable.
Mr Managh said local producers were well ahead of their competitors in Australia and Canada, which supplies most of the bacon and processed pork eaten in New Zealand.
"I would like to think that we could use that as a market advantage in the not-too-distant future."
Mr Sutton said that with the large amount of imported pork, producers needed to be able to market their product as "free range" or even organic.