Australia’s pig industry has vowed to be free of sow stalls within two years as part of its drive to raise pig welfare standards in the country.
Australian Pork, the country’s producer-owned levy body, said the industry targets to be entirely free of sow stalls by 2018 in response to growing consumer demand for higher-welfare meat.
In an article published in Farm Weekly, Andrew Spencer, Australian Pork chief executive, said the industry had spent about $50 million AUS ($38 million USD) over the past five years on replacing sow stalls with loose housing. As a result about 70% of sows are in loose housing for 90% of their pregnancies.
Spencer said the pledge to eradicate sow stalls was part of the industry’s efforts to show it was committed to improving production methods and that the health, well-being and productivity of the country’s pig herd was paramount.
In recent years Australia’s pig industry has come under attack from campaigners who have rallied against so-called “factory farming” methods, prompting producers to make rapid and radical changes, Spencer said.
“Illegally obtained video footage was confronting our farmers across the country and placing our industry at the centre of a battle between perception and reality,” he said.
“We need to be able to take the lead at telling this story and not leave a vacuum for others to fill.”
Shift in philosophy
Spencer said changes in the sector had been achieved through a shift in philosophy towards pig production.
“We’ve moved from growing pigs to producing food in the form of pork,” he said. “The subtle difference in the words hides a major attitudinal shift with significant consequences on Australian pig farms.
“Australia’s pork producers have evolved, not away from the farm but definitely towards better understanding and meeting the needs of the consumer.”
Spencer said the industry had invested heavily in product integrity systems such as the Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program and PigPass — a national tracking system that provides real-time information on the movements of all pigs in Australia.
Additional tools like Physi-Trace, a scientific tool that helps validate the traceability or label claim of a pork product, have also helped producers and processors to improve traceability and production standards.
“Too often in agriculture, we’ve become defensive, evasive or even apologetic about what it is that we do,” he added.
“We aspire to be a more transparent industry. [Rather than being] afraid of others seeing what we do, we are proud to show it off to those who care to take a look.
“We’re a different industry to what we were five years ago and we’ll be a different industry in another five years.”