Porky pies in pig welfare

A labelling scheme designed to assure consumers that pork was farmed under proper animal welfare guidelines has been described as "bogus" after revelations of disturbing practices on pig farms signed up to the PigCare label.

Mandy Carter, head of campaigns for animal activist group Safe, said the PigCare label was supposed to reassure consumers that pigs had been well cared for.

The scheme was set up in 2009, following a damning campaign featuring comedian Mike King, to guarantee farms with the label were complying with the Ministry for Primary Industries' welfare code, based on a yearly independent audit.

Carter said the label had now been proven to be "absolutely bogus, it's lying to consumers, it actually doesn't mean anything" after activist group Farmwatch filmed appalling conditions, including dead pigs lying among live ones and rats in the pens on a Canterbury farm that had been awarded a PigCare label.

It's not that the farm breached the rules mandated by the labelling scheme - just the opposite: most of what happened on the farm was legal even though it was "really shocking", Carter said.

It was an industry-wide problem and Safe was calling on Kiwis to boycott pork, she said.

New Zealand Pork said it was trying to do the best it could to lift welfare standards using its limited powers. NZ Pork auditor and veterinarian David Lawton couldn't deny the fact the footage looked bad but said all the farms with the PigCare label complied with the code.

NZ Pork did not have statutory power to make farms do anything and notified the ministry if a farm failed an audit, and it was up to the government department to take action, he said.

He admitted the scheme did not adequately address welfare issues. "PigCare is not the panacea that you think it is."

Some farmers were not good at "housekeeping" but they did look after their animals, he said.

"PigCare is not trying to define the utopia for the pig."

Since then NZ Pork had developed an additional system to rate the farms on aesthetics.

"This is not the answer, this is a step in the right direction."

Wholesalers who bought the pigs from the farm and sold meat to retailers were the only ones privy to a farm's rating.

Lawton said most pig farmers were aware of the public's perception of welfare and the growing demand for meat from farms with high standards. However, farm improvements required capital investment that farmers did not have, he said.

Consumer NZ said it was "surprisingly hard" for consumers to figure out whether their pork came from a "pig-friendly" farm.

NZ Pork chairman Ian Carter said the Farmwatch footage was "absolutely disappointing" for the industry but a boycott would shift welfare issues overseas, as almost 50 per cent of pork consumed in New Zealand is imported and foreign suppliers have no obligation to give welfare assurances.

Sunday Star Times