Happy pigs: Australia to go sow-stall free

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 18th November 2010

In a world first, the Australian pork industry voted today to voluntarily phase out the use of gestation or sow stalls by 2017.

The vote, held yesterday at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Australian Pork Limited (APL), the industry’s peak representative body, is a major step for Australian pork producers.

“The phasing out of gestation stalls will come at a significant cost to farmers, with initial modelling estimating it will cost up to $95 million,” said APL CEO Andrew Spencer. “To successfully achieve this outcome by 2017, pork farmers will require support from regulators, political stake holders, the retail sector, consumers and the general community.”

As a result of the vote, APL will start a round of meetings with state and federal Agriculture Ministers to brief them on the voluntary phase out and what this step means for Australian pork farmers.

The decision comes at a time when major retailers in Australia, particularly the Coles supermarket chain, have highlighted the community’s growing unease about the use of gestation stalls. Coles has announced a phasing out of sow-stall pork products, including ham and bacon, from Australian and overseas suppliers by 2014. In addition, Tasmania will ban the use of sow stalls by 2017, and Western Australia has restricted their use.RSPCA piglets

APL said the vote demonstrates that the industry recognises the issue of gestation stalls has moved beyond the scientific argument of whether or not they are better for pigs.

On a global footing, yesterday’s historic vote propels Australian pork producers onto the world stage as leaders in animal welfare policy development. It also provides the marketing opportunity for Australian pork to differentiate itself against its global competitors who continue to use gestation stalls.

“Today’s vote comes after extensive industry consultation in which producers at meetings across the country were given the opportunity to express their views on this very important issue. The APL Board firmly believed this issue had to be debated by the industry in an open and transparent manner. The resultant vote of today has supported that objective,” Spencer said.

Gestation crates or sow stalls are narrow metal-barred cages, which pregnant pigs are kept in to lower the risk of them bullying other pigs when kept together in small spaces. The cages are only slightly larger than the pig itself.

Animal welfare group Animals Australia welcomed the move by the industry, and urged concerned producers to act as soon as possible.

“Coles responded to consumer concerns by gaining a commitment from their producers to end the use of sow stalls by 2014, so we call on other Australian producers to also meet this date,” spokeswoman Glenys Oogjes said.