Life tough for pigs, say activists
Sow stalls are almost history, but the animal-welfare activist group Save Animals From Exploitation (Safe) says their campaign to improve the miserable lot of pigs on New Zealand farms is far from over.
Last week, Safe's executive director Hans Kriek said newly released video footage and photos from inside a New Zealand farm show that conditions for pigs are still appalling, even when farms are sticking to the letter of the law.
The footage, filmed covertly by another activist group, Farmwatch, shows young pigs wading trotter-deep through concrete-floored pens awash with a slurry of faeces and water, with no dry or clean area for them to sit or sleep. One piglet in the video, a runt that has failed to thrive, repeatedly falls over as if it has some sort of neurological disorder, and is bullied by other pigs.
This December marks the end of a five-year phasing-out of sow crates, the enclosures in which pregnant sows spend 16 weeks at a stretch in a space too small to turn around. The ban on crates was largely in response to a campaign, fronted by comedian Mike King, that led to widespread concern about the treatment of factory-farmed pigs.
But Kriek says Safe is now turning its attention to two other unpleasant aspects of intensive pig farming – the farrowing crates where sows are confined as they give birth and feed their young piglets, but also the "fattening pens", as shown in the new video, where piglets spend months growing big enough for slaughter.
Kriek says the images and video were filmed by Farmwatch inside a North Island farm in late June. Kriek is not publicly naming the farm, given that it doesn't appear to be breaking any laws.
"Our standards in New Zealand are so low with regard to how we can keep animals on factory farms, that what you can see there is most likely not illegal. If we were to make a complaint it would probably be a waste of time. Yet there are issues of clear concern."
Factory farming of pigs is especially cruel, says Kriek, because pigs are such intelligent creatures.
"You've got young pigs, which would normally explore and play, all together in a small pen. They get so frustrated and bored that they start biting each other. One of the areas they bite first is the tail, which can lead to further biting and cannibalism."
To prevent this some farmers amputate the pigs' tails, "when the solution is obviously not to keep pigs in a way that they get so frustrated".
There's a double standard about our attitudes to pets and to farm animals, says Kriek.
"Imagine if these were four-month-old golden labradors rather than pigs. Someone would see, the SPCA would come in, the animals would be removed and the owner would be prosecuted. But because they're pigs do they suffer any less?"
Kriek says each year in New Zealand around 700,000 pigs are killed for their meat. Though his preferred solution would be if everyone stop eating them altogether, consumers can still make a difference by sticking to meat that hasn't been factory farmed.
The SPCA "blue tick" certifies that no sow stalls or farrowing crates are used, and sets minimum conditions that are better than the legal minimum.
Kriek is damning, though, of the New Zealand Pork Board's "PigCare" certification, which he says guarantees merely that the farmer isn't breaking the law.
Ian Carter, chairman of the board, confirmed PigCare certification didn't rule out the use of sow stalls, farrowing crates or fattening pens, but said it did ensure that a farm had been independently audited and was meeting the Animal Welfare Code, which was more than could be said for the 56% of pig meat consumed in New Zealand each year that was imported from abroad.
He said while he couldn't comment in detail on the footage without viewing it, Fairfax's description of pigs wading through a slurry of faeces, and of a runt repeatedly falling over, sounded as if it was "not how we'd like to see pigs farmed". He added that without knowing which farm it was, he couldn't say if it had been audited for PigCare or not.
- Sunday Star Times