'Absorbed' by pork industry challenges

Rural Life

05 September 2022

By Sally Rae

The pork industry says farrowing crates reduce piglet mortality as there is less risk of piglets being crushed by the sow. PHOTO: NEW ZEALAND PORK

For New Zealand’s pork industry, it is a "perfect storm", NZ Pork chairman Eric Roy says.

From the price of feed to sourcing labour, the issues around country of origin labelling, and the concerns about what the industry describes as impractical regulations in the draft code of welfare, it is a challenging time.

Eric Roy.
Eric Roy

Eric Roy.

But for Mr Roy, the former National Party MP and Deputy Speaker, who has been re-appointed as an independent director and chairman of the board, he was "absorbed" by the challenge.

"That’s what keeps me really going and thinking about it," he said.

With the governance skills he had gained over the years, he could put them to use to help the industry and he was keen to lift the performance of the pork industry, particularly at the consumer end.

When one sector of the protein industry was not performing as well as it could be, it impacted on all of the sectors, he said.

Some of the challenges were short-term, such as the price of feed. There was a 40% crop failure in China — the biggest grain producer in the world — due to drought. That was on top of the Russian-Ukraine conflict — the Ukraine was another of the world’s major grain producers.

Unless there were substantial modifications to where the draft coded landed, there would be a lot of casualties in terms of the numbers of people involved in the industry, Mr Roy said.

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (Nawac) — an independent body which advises the Government on animal welfare issues — and the Ministry for Primary Industries — had been consulting on proposed changes to how pigs were farmed in New Zealand. Consultation had now closed.

Among the proposals in the new draft code of welfare were changes to the use of farrowing crates and the amount of space that needed to be provided for grower and weaner pigs.

Chairwoman Dr Gwyneth Verkerk has previously told the Otago Daily Times that Nawac was bound to write standards that met the purposes of the Animal Welfare Act, and it was Parliament that required the change to the farrowing system.

New Zealand’s pork sector has proposed significant changes to the way pigs were farmed as an alternative to those plans that have been proposed.

They include reducing the maximum time farrowing crates can be used from the current 33 days to no more than seven, increasing the minimum space allowance for grower pigs and eliminating the use of mating stalls for housing sows.

The changes would place New Zealand’s standards beyond those required in the United Kingdom, European Union, United States, Canada, Australia and China — which collectively produce most of the world’s pork and supply most of the pork exported to New Zealand.

Mr Roy said Nawac had been "reluctant" to engage with the pork industry and had sourced information "from a whole lot of various places around the world".

Some of the papers dated back to the 1980s and some things were not actually practiced, and it had not gauged the New Zealand industry’s thoughts on them, he said.

While the committee comprised well meaning people, it was coming from an animal rights position, rather than an animal welfare position, he said.

Nawac seemed to be "totally focused" on the sows and did not consider piglets until weaning. Confinement was a way to reduce the risk of crushing those newborn piglets.

The industry was not opposed to change, but change had to be scientifically-based. Some of the industry’s support scientists were "as good as anywhere in the world" and gave papers internationally; it was frustrating that those people had not been involved in setting the draft code.

The vagaries of regulations around country of origin were also frustrating as there was not any great clarity about where the basic product of pork came from, he said.

Prominent Canterbury rural leader Jessie Chan has been appointed as an independent director to the NZ Pork board.

Named Dairy Woman of the Year in 2017, she is chairwoman of RuralCo Ltd, serves on the board of Bioprotection Aotearoa and is a trustee of Meat the Need.

She previously on the boards of Ngai Tahu Farming, Alpine Energy, Connetics, Business Mid Canterbury and Federated Farmers Mid Canterbury. She was also an associate director with Dairy NZ.

Ms Chan became a member of the NZ Order of Merit this year, for services to dairy and agriculture.