A lobby group has alleged several Victorian farms of caging mother pigs for an “unacceptably” long period of time, releasing footage of the practice, which was to be phased out by the pork industry five years ago.
- Animal activists have accused several Victorian piggeries of using sow stalls for extended periods
- The pork industry says a majority of sow stalls in Australia were voluntarily phased out by 2017
- Farm trespass is illegal in Victoria, with penalties of $10,904 for an individual and up to $54,522 for an organization
Animal rights activists with the Farm Transparency Project pierced onto six farms across the state this year and installed cameras to obtain the footage.
Executive Director Chris Delforce said most consumers of pork would expect better welfare standards for Australian pigs.
“People are being led to believe by this industry that sow stalls are a thing of the past when they are still widely used,” he said.
“It’s clear to us that self-regulation by the industry has failed and it’s time for the government to step in and legislate a ban on these cruel cages.”
Sow stalls are cages measuring a minimum of 0.6 meters wide and 2.2 meters long which inhibit pig movement, and were introduced to control aggression during pregnancy and make pigs easier to manage.
Australian Pork Limited CEO Margo Andrae said the gestation cages were used to protect pigs and people working with the animals.
“There is a short time frame sows are in the stalls, for certified Gestation Stall Free [status] … up to five days to make sure the sow is looked after while she is mating,” she said.
“Over 88 percent of industry have voluntarily phased out the use of sow stalls for a period longer than five days.
“Trying to understand that footage [taken by the Farm Transparency Project] and look at those time frames is very hard when you don’t know the context and we can’t be sure of what those times are.”
Ms Andrae said the pigs’ welfare was jeopardised by the farm trespass, and the footage was obtained illegally.
“The activists breached biosecurity regulations and have put those farms at risk with diseases like African Swine Fever and foot-and-mouth disease on our doorstep,” she said.
“The activists have broken the law and need to be held accountable.
“Animal welfare is a priority — we do the utmost to protect our sows and our piglets to make sure that we are world-leading in how we operate as an industry.”
But Mr Delforce said his organization found piggeries exceeding this five-day recommendation and caging pigs for up to 27 days.
“They have enough room to take maybe one or two steps [in the cages] and they’re unable to turn around, a number of them have pressure sores because they are pressed up against metal bars or the hard concrete floor,” he said.
“These are designed to cram as many pigs in as tight a space as possible to make it as efficient as possible but it has nothing to do with the welfare of the pigs.”
Despite tough new laws to deter animal activists from trespassing on farms passing the Victorian parliament earlier this year, Mr Delforce said illegally entering private property was vital research.
“Unfortunately it’s the only way that consumers are ever going to see inside these places,” he said.
“I think rather than implementing laws that target whistleblowers who expose this cruelty, there should be laws targeting the cruelty.”
Victoria is currently in the process of upgrading animal care and protection laws, including potentially recognizing that “animals have the capacity to feel, perceive their environment, and to have positive and negative experiences like pleasure and pain”.
However the new legislation would also distinguish between companion animals and commercial livestock in the application of laws, stating animals can be owned and used for lawful purposes, including farming.
There are no intensive piggeries in the Australian Capital Territory and sow stalls have been banned in Tasmania and countries of economic similarity, such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand and some US states.