17 May 2022
Sean Molloy is a Canterbury pig farmer.
OPINION: New Zealanders have been enjoying commercially-farmed pork produced in New Zealand since the 1850s.
That may be about to end – leaving Kiwis reliant on imported pork produced to lower standards and, in many cases, using practices that are illegal here.
The Draft Code of Welfare for Pigs, proposed by the Government’s National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) includes draconian changes that fly in the face of sound scientific evidence, would negatively impact pig welfare and hugely increase piglet mortality.
These proposals would make pig farming uneconomic in New Zealand, push the price of local pork out of the reach of many Kiwis and ultimately destroy the industry.
For those that haven’t seen the changes, NAWAC proposes two options for increasing the minimum amount of space provided to pigs – either by 56% or 140%.
It suggests two options for farrowing crates; either to ban them altogether or to limit their use to three days only.
It proposes farrowing pens should be a minimum of 6.5 square metres and to introduce a minimum weaning age for piglets of 28 days.
Why is that important? Surely additional space for pigs is a good thing?
New Zealand pig farmers recognise the need to increase minimum space requirements for growing pigs, but these proposals exceed those required anywhere in the world and are not supported by science.
In indoor piggeries, weaned pigs are kept in heated areas and the temperature and ventilation is adjusted frequently to meet their needs.
Larger grower pigs generate more body heat so don’t require additional heating.
However, significantly increasing the minimum space would reduce their ability to keep themselves warm, requiring extra heating.
We don’t keep pigs at the minimum space allowance constantly. We give them space to grow into over time, and move them once they get to the minimum space allowance.
Pig farmers would need to reduce pig numbers or build additional sheds to meet either of the proposed space increases. Not all would have an ability to expand, have a bank prepared to finance that or be sure of gaining resource consent to build.
The proposals for space would result in much more frequent movements of pigs and frequent mixing of pigs of different ages and sizes, to regularly adjust stocking rates on farm.
This would impose unnecessary stress on the animals and lead to a reduction in the welfare of our pigs.
NAWAC itself has acknowledged that moving and mixing pigs more often would have adverse welfare outcomes.
Farrowing crates are used internationally to balance the welfare of the sow with protecting piglets.
If they are banned or significantly restricted many more piglets will die through being accidentally crushed by sows. NZ Pork estimates thousands more every year.
Sows are not unhappy in farrowing pens. They are warm, comfortable, have abundant food and their piglets around them – but with a piglet “escape route” if there is risk of crushing.
Sows can be safely attended to by vets and staff and after weaning return to their social groups.
I was among a group of pig farmers, industry scientists and vets who gave a presentation to the NAWAC committee.
The committee did not include a single person with experience of commercial pig farming and no pig scientists, pig vets or nutritionists, and we found members lacking even basic pig 101 knowledge.
We arrived eager to work constructively but left feeling they weren’t listening, and the outcome had already been decided, right at the very start of the code review.
A committee with no pig expertise cannot grasp how our sector works. Yet such a group has been tasked with making decisions that could harm pig welfare and destroy our sector.
The Government predicts the proposed code changes would see an increase of more than 18% in the price of NZ produced pork.
The “ideal” is this would be offset by more consumers purchasing such “ethical” pork.
However, we already have far superior welfare to countries exporting pork to New Zealand and yet purchases of cheaper imported product are at record levels, accounting for more than 60% of pork sales.
Yes, consumers prefer buying local but most will ultimately make purchasing decisions based on being able to feed their families.
The proposed code changes would add massive costs to our sector – I estimate it would cost $3 million to make the changes on my farm only to reduce productivity.
They would drive many pig farmers out of business and their employees out of jobs.
The government is not proposing to require imported pork to meet the new standards in the code, or even insist they meet existing NZ standards.
Consumers could expect to see significantly more imported pork from pigs farmed in ways that are already illegal here. That is not a win for animal welfare.
I care about my pigs and my people. If the members of NAWAC had to do the job they propose for us and spend their days pulling dead crushed piglets from under sows, or being baled up by 300kg protective mother pigs, they might revise their views.
The pork sector fully understands the code needs to be updated, but changes should be based on science and genuine consultation with farmers and pig specialists - not on emotion and muddled perceptions fuelled by limited understanding.
This has implications for every livestock farmer in New Zealand.
Enough is enough, it is time to put science and welfare back into such decision-making.