Wednesday, July 6, 2022

More time to have your say on pig welfare

The Ministry for Primary Industries has agreed to extend the consultation time on a controversial draft code of welfare for pigs for two weeks. 

The move came after discussions with NZPork.

NZPork chief executive Brent Kleiss said “the proposed changes are colossal and unprecedented, the material accompanying the draft code is substantial and there is a large amount of information for farmers and other industry stakeholders to review and assess”.

“Given the survival of individual farmers and the industry supply chain is at stake, we are pleased MPI has agreed to our request.”

NZPork argued that the draft code could result in the deaths of thousands of additional piglets, pig farms shutting down and New Zealanders having to rely on imported pork.

An economic analysis by Sapere Research Group earlier this year found pork farmers would have to lift prices by 18.8% and keep them at that level in real terms for 20 years to compensate for the changes.

The draft code was released in late April and allowed eight weeks for consultation. 

A review of the code was launched after the high court declared in November 2020 that the standards for farrowing crates and mating stalls were unlawful and invalid under the Animal Welfare Act.

The draft code includes changes to the minimum space allowance required for grower pigs, a ban or significant limitation on the traditional use of farrowing systems (farrowing crates), an effective ban on mating stalls, and sets a minimum weaning age of 28 days for piglets.

The changes to the minimum space go beyond the minimum necessary, NZPork said.

“Even countries that have subsidies, government funding and protected markets are nowhere near meeting these proposed space requirements and some are below our current standard for space.”

NZPork

“Even countries that have subsidies, government funding and protected markets are nowhere near meeting these proposed space requirements and some are below our current standard for space,” it said.

NZPork argued the proposals 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 farms. 

“This would impose unnecessary stress and reduce the welfare of our pigs.”

It does support the need for an increase in grower space, just not to the recommended extent.

On the farrowing crates, NZPork said the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) hasn’t adequately considered the welfare impacts of piglet mortality.

Animal welfare activists argue the farrowing crates are “barbaric cages” that prevent a mother pig from tending to her piglets. 

SAFE claimed the mother pig’s movements are so restricted she can only stand up and lie down and she can’t even turn around.

NZPork said if a mother pig is left to her own devices, piglets fall victim to starvation, hypothermia and being accidentally crushed by the sow.

“We believe that the duration of sow confinement around farrowing could be reduced with minor detriment to piglet welfare, but short-term confinement is beneficial to piglet welfare and must coincide with the most critical days of a piglet’s life when they are at their most vulnerable,” it said.

Speaking about the minimum weaning at 28 days, they believe it should be outcome-based, as opposed to prescriptive. 

By setting a prescriptive minimum weaning age, NAWAC takes no account of the variation in piglet weight for age between farms, differences in weaner accommodation, nutrition and management, NZPork said. 

“We support science-backed improvements to animal welfare, but the proposed changes could force farmers out of business and put the price of New Zealand-born and raised pork out of the reach of many Kiwis,” Kleiss said.

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