Unlawful probe by animal rights activists finds pigs in sow stalls in Victoria

A lobby group has accused several Victorian farms of caging mother pigs for an ‘unacceptable’ length of time, releasing footage of the practice, which was due to be phased out by the pig industry five years ago.

Animal rights activists from the Farm Transparency Project entered six farms across the state this year and set up cameras to get the footage.

Chief executive Chris Delforce said most pork consumers would expect better welfare standards for Australian pigs.

“People are led to believe by this industry that sow stalls are a thing of the past when they are still widely used,” he said.

“It is clear to us that industry self-regulation has failed and it is time for the government to step up and legislate to ban these cruel cages.”

Five-day recommendation

Sow stalls are cages measuring one minimum 0.6 meters wide and 2.2 meters long which inhibit pig movement and have been introduced to control aggression during gestation and facilitate pig management.

Margo Andrae, CEO of Australian Pork Limited, said gestation crates were used to protect pigs and people working with the animals.

“There is a short amount of time sows are in the stalls, for Gestation Stall Free certification [status] …up to five days to ensure the sow is cared for while she mates,” she said.

Sow stalls in Victoria must by law be at least 0.6 meters wide and 2.2 meters long.(Rural ABC: Warwick Long)

“Over 88% of the industry have voluntarily removed the use of sow stalls for a period longer than five days.

“Trying to understand these images [taken by the Farm Transparency Project] and looking at those timelines is very difficult when you don’t know the context and we can’t be sure of those timelines.”

Ms Andrae said the pigs’ welfare was compromised by the intrusion into the farm and the footage was obtained illegally.

“Activists broke biosecurity rules and put these farms at risk with diseases like African swine fever and foot and mouth disease on our doorstep,” she said.

“Activists broke the law and must be held accountable.

“Animal welfare is a priority – we do everything we can to protect our sows and piglets to ensure we are world leaders in how we operate as an industry.”

But Mr Delforce said his organization had discovered piggeries exceeding that five-day recommendation and caging pigs for up to 27 days.

“They have enough room to take maybe a step or two [in the cages] and they are unable to turn over, a number of them have bedsores because they are pressed against metal bars or the hard concrete floor,” he said.

“These are designed to cram as many pigs into as little space as possible to make it as efficient as possible, but that has nothing to do with the welfare of the pigs.”

Despite tough new laws aimed at deterring animal advocates from trespassing on farms before Victorian parliament earlier this year, Mr Delforce said illegal trespassing on private property was vital research.

“Unfortunately, this is the only way for consumers to see inside these places,” he said.

“I think rather than enforcing laws that target whistleblowers who expose this cruelty, there should be laws targeting cruelty.”

Pigsty, sows in pen
Australian Pork Limited says most pigs are not kept in cages for an extended period.(Australian Pork Limited)

Recognize Sensitivity

Victoria is currently in the process of improving animal care and protection lawsincluding potentially acknowledging that “animals have the ability to feel, perceive their environment, and have positive and negative experiences like pleasure and pain.”

However, the new legislation would also distinguish between pets and commercial livestock in law enforcement, stating that animals can be kept 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 UK, New Zealand and some US states.

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