Greens accused of sow grapes

Rebecca Turner and Claire TyrrellCountryman

The Greens (WA) has moved to ban sow stalls in WA by 2017.

While industry has already agreed to a voluntary phase out the stalls by 2017, Greens (WA) MLC Lynn MacLaren proposed the ban in State Parliament on Tuesday.

Last year, Tasmania became the first State to announce a ban on sow stalls by 2017.

The decision was followed by Coles’ announcement that it would make all its home brand pork products ‘sow stall free’ by 2014.

Ms MacLaren said sow stalls were inhumane and had no place in modern farming systems.

“The Australian pig industry has already voted to voluntarily phase out sow stalls by 2017; however it is important that these commitments are backed up by legislation to curb any future rogue operators,” she said.

“It is clear that most West Australians strongly disapprove of confining pigs in sow stalls yet, the WA Government is set to introduce new regulations which would allow unlimited use of sow stalls until 2017 and for six weeks for each pregnancy from 2017.

“While the pork industry’s responsible leaders are embracing change and are trying to do the right thing, it appears that there are a few stick in the muds who seem to have Agriculture Minister Terry Redman’s ear.”

But the WA Pork Producers Association (WAPPA) has warned that Ms MacLaren’s motion to amend proposed Government regulations for gestation stalls could seriously impede WA’s pork producers and the stability of the State’s pork industry.

Last November, the Australian pork industry made the world stage as leaders in animal welfare policy, by that announcing its delegates had agreed to pursue voluntary phasing out of gestation stalls by 2017.

At the time, Australian Pork Limited chief executive Andrew Spencer said that phasing out of gestation stalls would come at a significant cost to farmers, with initial modelling estimated nationally at $95 million.

He believed it could only be achieved with the support from regulators, political stakeholders, the retail sector, consumers and the general community.

WAPPA executive officer Russell Cox said the State’s industry was committed, in accordance with national policy, to move towards the voluntary phasing out of gestation stalls by 2017, but producers were likely to find it extremely difficult without adequate support from governments and associated parties.

“The media release issued by Lynn MacLaren is a prime example of this lack of support,” he said.

“It can only be seen as another exercise in political grand standing by a member of a party totally out of touch with the reality of the progress the pork industry has already made in adopting modern production methods that enhance the well-being of their pigs.

“The statement by the Greens is poorly researched and lacks clarity on a number of issues. To refer to producers as ‘rogue operators’ or ‘sticks in the mud’ is most unfortunate and quite infuriating, to be honest.

“This type of attitude reflects poorly on Ms MacLaren’s lack of knowledge of the quality and character of pork producers whose diversified farming operations play an important role in the rural landscape of WA.”

Carnamah pork producer David Smith switched to group housing in 1996, but uses farrowing crates for his breeding pigs.

“I think the pig industry is going away from sow stalls anyway, because all farmers realise it is in their interest to make their pigs happy,” he said.

“I run the sows in groups of 18 and they can also run around the shed.”

Mr Smith said there were some problems with group housing, such as fighting, but he managed to keep on top of that.

Currently, 25 per cent of WA’s 28,000 breeding sows are free range or outdoor bred, with another 45 per cent being group housed.

Mr Cox said the uptake of group housing had come about through industry influence and not as a result of forced legislation.

He said continued uptake of group housing was expected to grow without the need for legislative processes or welfare laws, as the industry moves toward a more knowledge-based position.

“From an intensive livestock production perspective, we are living in an age where many in political parties or the animal rights movement are of the opinion that perception is reality and that science is purely fiction,” Mr Cox said.

“These organisations are more about the elimination of intensive livestock production rather than about the well-being of the animal.

“The alternative is even more imported pork products and fewer jobs, and that’s of no benefit to any Australian.”

Mr Cox said these organisations should be working with the industry and Government to ensure that the production changes they wished to impose on producers would not create financial hardship.

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