Pigs are social1 and intelligent2 animals, who naturally live in family groups3 and are arguably smarter than dogs.4 Yet on factory farms, these sentient beings are treated like machines on a production line.

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Pigs are social1 and intelligent2 animals, who naturally live in family groups3 and are arguably smarter than dogs4. Yet on factory farms, these sentient beings are treated like machines on a production line.

Pregnancy hell

In Australia, pregnant pigs are permitted by law to spend a significant portion of their lives confined to sow stalls.5 These are small metal and concrete cages that are barely larger than the mother pig’s body; restricting her so she can’t even turn around.6

The science tells us that sow stalls cause serious physical and psychological harm to pregnant pigs.7 Despite this, these devices are commonly used on factory farms as a way of keeping the cost of producing pig meat low by simplifying farm management and maximising the number of pigs that can be kept in a given area.8

Permanent confinement within sow stalls can frustrate many of a pig’s natural behaviours like exploring and socialising with other pigs,9 and can inflict skin abrasions when sows press up against the metal bars.10 Sow stalls often lead to serious health problems, including reduced bone strength and muscle weight,11 impaired locomotion and severe lameness.12

To give birth, sows are confined even more restrictively in a ‘farrowing crate’ that barely allows them to move. Piglets are taken away from their mothers prematurely; a stressful experience that causes a high incidence of clinical disease and diarrhoea.13 The confinement which sows experience in farrowing crates not only restricts their movement but also frustrates the natural nesting behaviours they experience before giving birth.14

Sadly, even once a mother pig has given birth to her piglets, there is no relief. Over the course of their lives, factory farmed sows are repeatedly impregnated until they can no longer produce enough piglets and then they are slaughtered.15 Termed ‘reproductive failure’ by industry, this is the largest single reason for sows to be killed. On average, Australian sows carry four pregnancies over the course of two years before they are killed for their lack of productivity.16

The role of industry

A wealth of scientific evidence suggests sow stalls are bad for pig welfare, yet Australian Pork Limited (APL), the peak pork industry body, continues to claim that “stalls are good for newly pregnant pigs, and that pigs prefer them”.17

In 2010, despite their position that “sow stalls are a welfare benefit” for sows,18 APL announced it would “commit to pursuing the voluntary phasing out of the use of sow stalls by 2017”.19

While seemingly positive, this ‘ban’ on the use of stalls is totally inadequate for two reasons. First, it is in no way binding on individual pork producers. If a producer refuses to get rid of sow stalls by 2017, APL is only able to revoke that producer’s membership. APL cannot enforce the ban and there would be no legal repercussions for the producer. This suggests that an actual voluntary industry-wide ban is unlikely to be successful.

Secondly, APL’s definition of “gestation stall free” does not mean what it says. According to APL, “gestation stall free” means “that a sow will only spend up to 5 days in a mating stall, to stabilise pregnancy and then later be moved into a farrowing crate or birthing stall, up to a week before she is due to give birth.”20 It does not mean that sows will spend no time in a stall.

This slippery definition caught the attention of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission who has encouraged APL to correct the “sow stall free” claim on the grounds that it is misleading and deceptive.21

Lagging behind the rest of the world

As other countries take steps to legislate a complete ban on sow stalls, Australia is lagging shamefully behind. 82% of Australians agree that sow stalls should be banned,22 yet the use of these cruel devices is still permitted. Lack of clear industry data – facilitated by APL’s definition of “sow stall free” - prevents the public from knowing the exact number of sows locked up in stalls or the period of their confinement.

We do know that sow stalls have already been banned in the United Kingdom23 and Sweden24 with New Zealand to follow from 2015.25 Switzerland,26 The Netherlands27 and Finland28 have each implemented partial bans and nine US States have also passed legislation to, at least partially, ban sow stalls.29

Here in Australia, major retailer Coles’ own brand pork products have been sow stall free since 2013,30 while Woolworths has also committed to sourcing all of its fresh pork meat from farms that only use stalls for less than 10% of the sows’ gestation period.31

To date, the ACT32 and Tasmania33 are the only jurisdictions to have taken action to prohibit or restrict the use of sow stalls through law reforms.

Piglets and porkers

Not long after birth, male piglets are routinely castrated without pain relief, a practise so painful that it can provoke trembling and vomiting.34 Piglets’ teeth are often clipped without anaesthetic and this can cause up to 15 days of extreme pain.35

The pigs who are raised for their meat on factory farms, known as ‘porkers’, generally spend their whole lives indoors. Porkers are housed in crowded, concrete-floored pens with no natural materials. Research shows that some factory farmed pigs suffer prolonged depression because they are denied natural light, space and the opportunity to forage for food in natural surroundings.36

For many of these pigs, the trip to the slaughterhouse is their only chance to experience life outdoors and to feel the wind and the sun.

It’s time for action

It is now time for the Australian Government to act and introduce better legal protections for pigs raised for food. The Commonwealth government must revise the Pig Code to prohibit the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates and the permanent confinement of porkers, moves which must then be reflected by the introduction or amendment of legislation by state governments.

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  • 1. Held S et al, ‘Social tactics of pigs in a competitive foraging task: the ‘uniformed forager’ paradigm’(2000) 59(3) Animal Behaviour 569-576 (quoted in Compassion in World Farming Trust, Stop-Look-Listen: Recognising the sentience of farm animals, (2003)); Jeremy N Marchant-Forde, ‘Welfare of dry sows’ in Jeremy N Marchant-Forde (ed), The Welfare of Pigs (Springer Science+Business Media, Dordrecht, 2009); Wood-Gush DGM, Jensen P, Algers B, ‘Behaviour of pigs in a novel semi-natural environment’ (1990) 15 Biol Behav 62-73.
  • 2. Held S et al, ibid.
  • 3. Michael Mendl, Suzanne Held and Richard W. Byrne, ‘Pig Cognition’ (2010) 20, 18 Current Biology, 796.
  • 4. Amy Hatkoff, The Inner World of Farm Animals (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2009) 97 (quoting Bernard E. Rollins).
  • 5. With the exception of the ACT, all Australian jurisdictions permit sows to be confined in sow stalls and farrowing crates, either permanently, or for a significant portion of their gestation period.
  • 6. The current permitted dimensions of sow stalls are 2.2 metres by 0.6 metres for new installations: See Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Pigs, Third Edition, 23.
  • 7. For a detailed review of the literature on the welfare implications of sow stalls, see Voiceless (2013), Science and Sense: the case for abolishing sow stalls, 21 <http://www.voiceless.org.au/sites/default/files/Science_and_Sense.pdf>, accessed on 2 June 2014.
  • 8. Jeremy N Marchant-Forde (ed), The Welfare of Pigs (Springer Science+Business Media, Dordrecht, 2009), 95; Professor J McGlone, Pig Progress, ‘Sow Stalls: A Brief History’ (9 December 2013), <http://www.pigprogress.net/Home/General/2013/12/Sow-stalls--a-brief-hist..., accessed on 28 May 2014.
  • 9. RB D’Eath and SP Turner, ‘The natural behaviour of the pig’ in Marchant-Forde (ed), ibid; Compassion in World Farming, Welfare issues for pigs (2013) <http://www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/pigs/welfare-issues/>, accessed on 28 May 2014.
  • 10. L Anil et al, ‘Comparison of injuries in sows housed in gestation stalls versus group pens with electronic sow feeders’ (2003) 223 Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 1334-1338; Guillermo A M Karlen et al, ‘The welfare of gestating sows in conventional stalls and large groups on deep litter’ (2007) 105 Applied Animal Behaviour Science 87-101; Compassion in World Farming, ibid.
  • 11. Jeremy N Marchant-Forde and D M Broom, ‘Effects of dry sow housing conditions on muscle weight and bone strength’ (1996) 62 Animal Science 105-113; Compassion in Word Farming, ibid.
  • 12. Karlen et al, above n 10; Marchant-Forde and Broom, ibid; Compassion in World Farming, ibid.
  • 13. P Baynes and M Varley, ‘Gut health: practical considerations’ in Mike A Varley and Julian Wiseman, The Weaner Pig: Nutrition and Management (CABI Publishing, 2001) 249.
  • 14. G Taylor, G Roese and I Kruger, PrimeFact 61: Alternative farrowing accommodation in the pork industry (April 2006) <http://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/63840/Alternative-..., accessed on 2 June 2014.
  • 15. Marchant-Forde, above n 1.
  • 16. Marchant-Forde and Broom, above n 11; P E Hughes et al, ‘Relationships among gilt and sow live weight, P2 backfat depth, and culling rates’ (2010) 18 Journal of Swine Health Production 301-305. Hughes et al (2010) noted, based on APL figures, that the average sow replacement rate in Australia is 61% each year, while sows were culled after 4.1 parities (that is, at just under 2 years of age), on average. These authors also remark that reproductive failure is the largest single cause for culling sows. The situation appears similar in the US, where a sow’s average lifespan is about 3.5 pregnancies: Marchant-Forde (2009) 130.
  • 17. Andrew Spencer, ‘Crisis management for pig welfare’, Australian Pork Newspaper 13(12) (12 December 2009). Australian Pork Limited described sow stalls as ‘highly confining’ and reaffirms their commitment to phasing out sow stalls: Australian Pork Limited, Housing (2014) <http://australianpork.com.au/industry-focus/animal-welfare/housing/>, accessed on 28 May 2014.
  • 18. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, PM, 23 April 2007 (Kathleen Plowman) available at <www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2007/s1904623.htm>, accessed on 28 May 2014.
  • 19. Australian Pork Limited, ‘Annual Report 2010-2011’ (2011), 5 <http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Annual-Report-20..., accessed on 28 May 2014.
  • 20. Australian Pork Limited, ‘No stalling on more space for Australian sows’ (Media Release, 4 March 2014) <http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/No-Stalling-on-M..., accessed on 28 May 2014.
  • 21. Australian Pork Limited, Corrective Statement (2013), http://staging.australianpork.com.au/latest-news/corrective-statement/ (webpage has subsequently been removed).
  • 22. Survey of 1,000 randomly selected Australians commissioned by Voiceless and conducted by PureProfile in September 2011.
  • 23. The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, paragraph 5(e) and Schedule 8, paragraphs 5 and 6 (partial ban); Welfare of Farmed Animals (Wales) Regulations 2007, paragraph 5(e) and Schedule 8, paragraphs 5 and 6 (partial ban); Welfare of Farmed Animals (Scotland) Regulations 2010, paragraph 6(e) and Schedule 6, paragraphs 5 and 6 (partial ban); Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000, paragraph 8 and Schedule 8, paragraphs 5 and 6 (partial ban), as amended by Welfare of Farmed Animals (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003.
  • 24. Animal Welfare Ordinance 1988:539 (Sweden), 1 January 2009, section 14 and State Board of Agriculture Regulations and Guidelines on Animal Husbandry in Agriculture (Sweden), 6 May 2010, Chapter 3.
  • 25. Carter D, ‘New Pig Welfare Code To Phase Out Sow Stalls’, Beehive, 01/12/2012, see www.beehive.govt.nz/release/new-pig-welfare-code-phase-out-sow-stalls
  • 26. Animal Protection Ordinance 1981 (Switzerland), Article 22(2).
  • 27. Health and Welfare of Animals Act – Pig Decision 1994 (The Netherlands), Article 2.
  • 28. Animal Welfare Decree 1996 (Finland), Section 17(2).
  • 29. As at February 2014, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and Rhode Island have all have passed laws to prohibit the use of gestation crates.
  • 30. R Willingham, ‘Coles tackles factory farming’, The Age (online), 23 October 2012 <http://www.theage.com.au/national/coles-tackles-factory-farming-20121022..., accessed on 2 June 2014.
  • 31. Woolworths Limited, Animal Welfare (2014) <http://www.woolworthslimited.com.au/page/A_Trusted_Company/Responsibile_..., accessed on 2 June 2014.
  • 32. Animal Welfare Act 1992 (ACT), section 9B.
  • 33. Animal Welfare (Pigs) Regulations 2013 (S.R. 2013, NO. 35), Part 4 - Accommodation.
  • 34. F Wemelsfelder and G van Putten, ‘Behaviour as a possible indicator for pain in piglets’ IVO Report B-260 Research Institute for Animal Production Schoonoord, Schiest, Netherlands quoted in A F Fraser and D M Broom, Farm Animal Behaviour and Welfare (CABI Publishing, 1997), 266.
  • 35. M Hay et al, ‘Long-term detrimental effects of tooth clipping or grinding in piglets: a histological approach’ (2004) 13 Animal Welfare Journal 27-32.
  • 36. European Commission Scientific Veterinary Committee (Animal Welfare Section), ‘Report on the welfare of intensively kept pigs’ (1997) Report No XXIV/B3/ScVC/0005/1997 <http://ec.europa.eu/food/fs/sc/oldcomm4/out17_en.pdf>, accessed on 28 May 2014.
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