Animal abuse unacceptable for pigs and consumers

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I was a kid on pig farms in the 1970s. Piglets were castrated using a scalpel without anaesthetic, wire cutters were used to trim their teeth and cut off their tails. Wire was forced through their sensitive snouts. Row upon row of sows were trapped in barred cages confining them to a single position, unable to turn around and separated from their piglets. The air was full of dust, no sunlight penetrated. The pigpens were sluiced with cold water, the floors were barren. These highly intelligent animals were imprisoned as breeding and meat machines, never seeing the light of day.

If the shocking revelations disclosed by FarmWatch are anything to go by, at least some of those derelict, Dickensian pig farms have got even worse.

Concerns about pig welfare go back to at least the 1960s, but the Ministry for Primary Industries, its precursors and the Pork Industry Board justify the systematic ill treatment of pigs ‘because it’s more productive’, ‘leads to less piglet mortality’, or because of ‘the long lead in time for modifications to piggeries’.

In nature, pigs live in stable social units, seek sheltered nesting spaces, feed and root in the soil, and use their snouts and mouths to explore the environment. In nature, sows remove themselves from the herd a few days before birth, create a nest from straw and leaves, and stay with their piglets separate from the herd for a week to 10 days, weaning the piglets only after four or five months.

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In New Zealand some pig farms have more than 1000 pigs. Piglets are weaned after only about 28 days, after which sows are impregnated again. Sows can’t turn around, they can’t nest, and they can’t wallow in mud, or root in the soil. Even under the current Code of Welfare for Pigs, unsedated castration, teeth and tail clipping are permitted for young piglets.
Farming is inherently cruel and treats animals like commodities or things. Minimum welfare standards are inadequate, and enforcement lax. Unacceptable abuse obviously occurs. We have only 11 compliance officers for 100 million farm animals, meaning much goes on unseen.

Opposition parties are now vowing to outlaw ‘Factory farming’ by 2017. There are concerns about what that means – a redefinition of terms but little change? or nothing, if National get back in.

Evidence shows that people are willing to pay more for welfare friendly meat, (though this varies across consumer groups) though ideally, for the animals and the environment, we wouldn’t eat it at all. After the expose by FarmWatch, consumer backlash has increased – note the commitment to a pork boycott by consumers, or to eat only ‘Freedom Farmed’ pork. But the light shining on current farm practices undermines public confidence in certification schemes given that at least one of the farms was certified under the ‘CarePig’ label. In fact, they couldn’t have cared less for the pigs.

There’s no substitute for monitored regulation of industry to ensure humane standards are met, but in the meantime discerning consumers will increasingly reject pork. Farmers who legally and illegally mistreat pigs are an enemy of the ‘pork’ industry as well as of pigs.

11 COMMENTS

  1. It is good to see that Labour and the Greens are trying to make this into an election issue. But National’s allies in the MSM will do either of two things, 1. They will use as a tool to ridicule the left, and/or 2. They will try and ignore it. When you have a Prime Minister that can’t even take violence against women seriously, how much concern do you think he would have for poor dumb animals? I personally have been so appalled with the images and descriptions I have seen and heard about our (common) farming practices that I have resolved to go vegetarian. I thought about just eating certified “free range” meat but it seems you can’t trust this either.

    • I don’t think that is true about ‘free range’ meat which is primarily what I buy at Huckleberrys, it is more expensive, but we only eat meat a couple of times a week anyway.

  2. I just don’t eat pork, haven’t for a long time. Can’t afford the free range other than very occasionally and will not put into my body meat that has come from animals that have not had something of a reasonable life before hand, and rearing them in stalls is a long way from that, i don’t care how clean you might keep your place. Factory farming is horrendous, the only answer to it is that the human race get to reducing its numbers so such things are no longer required. We do not own this planet!!

  3. Much as we are disgusted by the treatment of pigs, it is just the tip of the iceberg. The entire industrial food system is predicated on abuse of animals and people,

  4. Put the Minister for Primary Industries into a tight sow crate for the rest of the year, feed him the food the pigs get, and then ask him again, whether he is satisfied with the way pigs and some other industrially used animals are kept in supposedly “clean” and “green” New Zealand!

  5. Evidence shows that people are willing to pay more for welfare friendly meat

    Some people are. Most New Zealanders care about farm animals as much as they care about their fellow humans; very little.

  6. I listened to a “responsible” pig farmer on the radio the other day, who proudly proclaimed that sows were only in farrowing crates for about 6 weeks at a time, yes JUST 6 weeks. Of course he didn’t bother to mention that is far from another full year before she finds herself in one again for a further 6 weeks.

  7. Great. Let’s make all farming ‘organic’ and ‘free range’, suits me, I can afford to pay for it. But what about the great majority that can’t? What are they supposed to feed their kids? Lentils?

  8. The inherently cruel practices going on within this industry needs to end now. Pigs are the only hoofed animal to make nests when they are having their babies, so even their natural instincts are being completely oppressed. I can’t image what it would be like to be boxed in and not be able to move or even turn around. Pigs are more akin to humans than people realise, they’re highly intelligent, and even their internal organs are much like our own. Give pigs a nice life, dont be cruel just to make a profit, there is no justification for it.

    Good on Labour for announcing they will ban all factory farming by 2017, supported by other opposition parties.

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