Pigs in Victoria are still being held in narrow pens that are not wide enough for the animals to turn around, despite an industry promise to stop using them five years ago, according to the Animal Justice party.
The party is now calling for a ban on the use of the 0.6 metre by 2 metre stalls, called sow or gestation stalls, which the Australian pig industry committed to phasing out by 2017.
Before public pressure caused the industry to move away from sow stalls, pigs in indoor piggeries were kept in stalls for the entirety of their 115 day gestation period before being moved to a farrowing crate. A standard farrowing crate measures 0.5 metres by 2 metres, with additional room for the piglets to move around to avoid being crushed by the sow. Like a sow stall, it allows the sow to stand and lie down but not turn around.
Sow stalls were introduced to control aggression and make the pigs easier to manage, but it meant that breeding sows spent their entire lives confined. The pig industry agreed to phase out sow stalls, and national animal welfare regulations which came into force in 2018 limit their use to no more than six weeks for each pregnancy cycle for a gestation stall and another six weeks for a farrowing crate.
Pigs in commercial piggeries are bred twice a year, meaning that even under the new animal welfare standards they could spend up to half of the year confined to a small stall.
Australian Pork Limited, the peak industry body, recommends that sows be kept in larger pens for their entire pregnancy, except for five days after mating and one week before they are due to give birth.
However that higher standard, which is widely advertised by the pig industry, is voluntary and has only been adopted into law in two jurisdictions, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania.
Victorian Animal Justice party MP, Andy Meddick, said the disconnect between the industry’s public commitment to be sow stall free and the reality of time spent in stalls is misleading to consumers.
He has called on the Victorian government to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to ban the use of sow stalls. It comes after the release of footage taken by animal activists this year, which purported to show sow stalls in use at six Victorian piggeries.
“Clearly the industry can’t be trusted to self-regulate,” Meddick said. “It can’t be trusted to institute this ban. And therefore it must now be legislated. The government has to move on it. We can’t rely on self-regulation of industry, it has never worked.”
Guardian Australia does not suggest any of those piggeries breached either their code of practice or their obligations under the industry-run Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program (APIQ). According to Australian Pork Limited, more than 90% of pork production in Australia is APIQ certified, but that certification does not guarantee pork is sow stall free.
Australian Pork Limited said the industry remained “committed to continuous improvements in pig welfare, investing in ongoing research and innovation to ensure the health and safety of our pigs and our people”.
Sow stalls were banned in New Zealand in 2015, and are also banned in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, and some US states.
Dr Nikki Kells, a senior lecturer in animal welfare at New Zealand’s Massey University, said sow stalls prevent pigs from being able to engage in their natural behaviours.
“You can have an animal that’s in a crate that is actually really healthy and it’s producing the way it should produce but actually, it’s maybe really, really miserable or really frustrated, because it can’t do some of the things that it’s really highly motivated to do,” Kells said.