This month's edition of The Australian Women's Weekly magazine included a six-page article by Mark Whittaker on the Australian pig meat industry, titled "The Truth About Pig Farms". Here are my thoughts:
- It was interesting that the journalist, Mark Whittaker, had already arranged to visit Ean Pollard's piggery just before its sow stalls were filmed by activists.
- Whittaker seemed blasé in reporting the results of tail docking: "He [Pollard] points out some piglets smeared with a little blood from where their tails were cut off this morning. 'They clean themselves up' he says, pointing to another crate. 'See, this lot were docked four days ago and they're fine.'"
- He was similarly blasé in reporting sows transferring from weaning to insemination: "The mothers get about a week off before they are inseminated and sent off to the area which has been a subject of much contention, the sow stalls." His apparent attitude seems to highlight the fact that sows are considered to be production machines.
- In describing Animals Australia's "Make it Possible" advertisements, Pollard says, "These ads are all emotive. They dress it up with sympathetic music." So meat, dairy and egg producers never undertake similar PR practices?
- I was pleased to read that Lisa Chalk of Animals Australia had "warned" Whittaker that the industry would "put up . . . their best intensive pig farm in Australia", and that they wouldn't call it a factory farm. She was correct. Pollard calls it "indoor farming". (Does that sound much more attractive?)
- Chalk cited the case of Westpork in WA, where the activists' video showed "hundreds of pigs living in muck". "Porker wallow in excrement. There's one dying, struggling to keep its snout above the level of faecel goop. A few dead ones are piled outside." (It's a shame that Whittaker refers to the pigs as "it", rather than "he" or "she".)
- Whittaker reports that supermarket chain Coles' "sow stall" free pig meat comes from sows who still live their 16 week pregnancy on "hard, slatted floors". It would be impossible to follow their instincts in such surroundings.
- He also reported that "Coles says it is now 100 per cent sow stall free." That statement is only likely to be correct if Coles only sells home brand pork, because that's the only brand it has committed to being sow stall free.
- Whittaker spoke to Emily McKintosh of peak industry body, Australian Pork Ltd, who claimed that animal activists who enter industry properties "think they are above the law". However, a key problem for animals is that industry members who mutilate them without anaesthetic or who confine them indoors for the entire lives, or in sow stalls and farrowing crates for extended periods, are protected by the law. If they were to treat domestic pets in that way, there's a reasonable chance they would be prosecuted. In any event, there are many examples where activists have discovered practices that went beyond the law. Would those practices have ever been discovered without their involvement?
- An activist who posed as a worker at a northern NSW piggery described "pigs getting dragged by their ears and being shot in the head . . . all their tails getting cut off, their teeth getting pulled with no anaesthetic. . . . Every day, you'd see animals getting hit with things. Dragged around, kicked around, sworn at, screamed at, things thrown at them. They use cattle prods and all that stuff as well." He described a co-worker grabbing a sick piglet by the hind legs and smashing his or her head into the concrete.
- Some unfortunate terminology was used in relation to free range farmers Matt and Sue Simmons, e.g.: they have been "growing pigs" for five years; Matt said the piglets "stay outdoors until they go to chop chop".
- There were some interesting insights from them too. The mainstream pig meat industry claims that farrowing crates are used in order to protect the piglets, yet Matt sees less mortality without the crates than what occurs with them. Also, "A lot of people have this romantic idea of free-range pig farming, but it's still got to be intensive enough to be profitable". Also, he said "you can't farrow [give birth] in a crate", but that's what sows are being forced to do, as demonstrated at around the 2:20 mark in this 2009 video of Bangalow Pork in Queensland ("Super Butcher: from farm gate to your plate").
- Some comments from Lee McCosker of Humane Choice regarding free range: "A lot of people probably think they're doing the right thing by buying 'bred free-range' or Coles Finest free-range or Primo free-range in Woolworths. Those farms, no one even knows where they are. There's no transparency. . . . a lot of them say they are RSPCA accredited. But the RSPCA doesn't accredit free-range" . . . "there is no legal definition of free-range". She describes "bred free-range" as "half-hearted free-range, where the sows give birth outside, but the piglets are put inside after weaning at three to four weeks".
- Whittaker wanted to see a "bred free-range" system at Otway Pork, who supply Coles. However, Otway declined, "citing bio security". Whittaker said: "It didn't fill me with confidence in their transparency or the physical resilience of their animals."
- Whittaker's concluding comments: "I began researching this story expecting to be horrified by intensive pig farming. Indeed, the YouTube videos of the Gingin [Westpork] piggery confirm that the worst is possible and that the animal liberationists have an important role to play in continuing to push for improvements. Yet the activist's video of Ean's farm [Lansdowne piggery] also demonstrated that cruelty is in the eye of the beholder. Farmers are improving in response to the pressure. Ultimately, though, it is the consumer that will drive this bus and they have to be prepared to pay to get to their chosen destination."
Although I feel that Whittaker did a reasonable job in preparing the article, I wonder how anyone would feel if they were castrated, had their teeth clipped, tail cut off (if they had one) or ears notched, all without anaesthetic, or were forced to live their entire life indoors. The idea of cruelty being "in the eye of the beholder" wouldn't offer much comfort in such circumstances.
Blog Author: Paul Mahony
Image: Extracted from the video "Australian sow stalls at Westmill Products 'Lansdowne' Piggery NSW, 2013", courtesy aussiepigs.com.au
This blog post first appeared on the author's Terrastendo blogging site on 6th July, 2013.