Monday, April 22, 2024

Farrowing crate review underway

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The pork industry remains concerned over the lack of viable alternatives following a High Court decision in November that left pig farmers facing an uncertain future.
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The High Court ruled that the regulations and minimum standards regarding the use of mating stalls and farrowing crates were unlawful and invalid.

The decision followed a judicial review taken by the New Zealand Animal Law Association (NZALA) and SAFE against the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC).

The Court also directed Animal Welfare Minister Meka Whaitiri to consider recommending new regulations that provide a transition period to phase out the use of farrowing crates and mating stalls and to consider making such changes to the relevant minimum standards under the Welfare Code for pigs.

The NAWAC pigs sub-committee is considering the regulatory reform process regarding the use of farrowing crates and mating stalls with the pork industry’s animal welfare scientist advisor Kirsty Chidgey joining them for a workshop in Wellington.

NZ Pork chair Eric Roy and chief executive David Baines have raised the industry’s concerns with the Minister and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Director General Ray Smith.

The code working group is reviewing the remainder of the code.

This group has industry representation with farmers, vets and NZ Pork staff, along with NAWAC and MPI.

Baines says NZ Pork will be asking for input from its farmers and supply chain participants for the review of the code over the coming weeks.

He says industry is lobbying for several key changes, including an appropriate alternative to the current use of farrowing crates and mating stalls that must retain the benefits of the current systems, while still meeting health and safety obligations.

“The net overall welfare of the sow and her piglets assessed on a scientific basis should be the foundation of any proposal,” Baines said.

This means research into options in a commercial farm setting in NZ must be carried out before any decision is made around any changes.

To assess potential alternatives, NZ Pork will be submitting a major co-funded research proposal under the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFFF) programme.

NZ’s Animal Welfare Act does not allow practical and economic considerations to override welfare considerations.

“Practicality and viability demonstrated in NZ commercial farming conditions are both critical if farmers are to consider changing,” he said.

As part of any regulatory changes the Government must carry out a regulatory impact statement (RIS).

This provides a high-level summary of the problem being addressed, the options and their associated costs and benefits, the consultation undertaken and the proposed arrangements for implementation and review.

“MPI will seek input from NZ Pork regarding the costs of redevelopment and ongoing operating costs associated with the different options,” he said.

Canterbury pig farmer Jason Palmer says the High Court dropped a bombshell.

“A judge in Wellington made a decision which left pig farmers like me facing an uncertain future almost overnight,” Palmer said.

The court recommended new regulations that provide a transition period to phase out the use of farrowing crates and mating stalls.

“In other words, the Government may try to ban farrowing crates all together,” he said.

“My family and I have been involved in pig farming for more than 30 years and some of the commentary following the High Court decision has at times demonstrated a lack of understanding about why we raise pigs like we do.

“It’s important to understand one of the reasons they (farrowing crates) were introduced by the pig industry was to reduce piglet deaths as a result of being crushed by their mothers.

“Piglet crushing is a welfare issue, and this system is the most effective at protecting piglets from being crushed.”

Palmer says statistics do not lie.

“According to a study of NZ pig farms, commissioned for MPI, pre-weaning piglet mortality in NZ averages 12% on farms using conventional indoor farrowing systems, compared to outdoor-based farms where pre-weaning piglet mortality is more than 20%,” he said.

The consequences of outlawing indoor farrowing systems are clear.

“Firstly, half the industry will need to reconsider their future, and many will choose to exit pig farming,” he said.

“Secondly, a greater number of pigs will die.”

“And, more imported pork will come into NZ from countries that do not meet NZ animal welfare standards.”

NZ Pork is expecting a draft code this month for circulation to farmers and the wider supply chain for feedback.

NAWAC will meet to finalise the draft code recommendations for presentation to Minister Whaitiri in April.

Public consultation is scheduled for June, with final recommendations going to Cabinet in October.

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