20 May 2009

Pig farm at centre of welfare row 'broke no rules'

7:38 pm on 20 May 2009

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry says a pig farm at the centre of allegations of animal cruelty does not appear to have broken any rules.

A Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) animal welfare expert and an independent vet inspected the site on Tuesday, after graphic footage of distressed pigs filmed by animal activists was shown on television.

MAF investigation manager Greg Reid says the final assessment is likely to show there are no animal welfare issues and the farm is complies with welfare codes.

Mr Reid says the pig farm has clearly been used as an example to question the industry's use of sow-crate farming.

The group Save Animals From Exploitation (SAFE) on Tuesday identified the pig farm that had been filmed as being owned by former Pork Industry Board director Colin Kay.

Mr Kay said the officials sent by MAF did not find anything during their two-and-a-half hour inspection and he has fully complied with the welfare code.

He is upset that animal welfare activists broke into his piggery to obtain the images it did, saying it had distressed the pigs unnecessarily.

Mr Kay told Morning Report the animals' behaviour in the footage, including frothing at the mouth, was not normal, and the group that broke in to the piggery must have done something to agitate the sows.

He has been granted resource consent for a new large-scale piggery which will house up to 45,000 pigs on a 20-hectare site near Foxton, and says no sow crates will be used there.

Officials discuss use of sow crates

Agriculture Minister David Carter has asked that a review of the welfare code for pigs be given top priority by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.

The committee met on Wednesday to talk about whether the current code, within the Animal Welfare Act, should remain or be replaced.

The use of sow crates and stalls in pig farming was discussed. Committee chairperson Peter O'Hara says if housing pigs in that way is unacceptable, then alternatives that deliver equal, if not better, welfare must be found.

Mr Carter says he would like to see a new code of welfare for pigs issued by the end of this year. He says there is a high level of public concern over the issue and it is vital the public is allowed to make submissions.

The use of sow crates is permitted under the current code.

Disturbing footage, says minister

Agriculture and Forestry Minister David Carter on Monday described the footage obtained as "disturbing" and said he wanted inspectors to determine whether it is in breach of the Animal Welfare Act.

Mr Carter said he is very concerned about animal welfare and has pointed out that SAFE could have revealed the details sooner than it did.

Prime Minister John Key weighed into the debate on Monday, saying if the footage was indicative of what is happening at a large number of piggeries there is "an absolute need for change."

SAFE spokesperson Hans Kriek said 28% of New Zealand pig farms use sow crates to house their pigs.

During filming at the farm comedian Mike King, who used to front a campaign advertising pork, accompanied the cameras and called the farming practices he saw brutal, callous and evil.

Board supports investigation

Pork Industry Board chief executive Sam McIvor said the footage is not representative of how most of the industry operates and the organisation supports an investigation of the farm.

He said crates are still needed in some circumstances because sows get very aggressive during the early stages of their pregnancies and the stalls prevent them from hurting one another.

However, he said the industry is working to phase out their use by 2015 and is working on new housing methods, such as pens that hold several sows.

Mr McIvor told Nine to Noon on Tuesday one in 10 farms use sow crates for more than six weeks at a time.

He said ending the use of sow crates would add costs for farmers, who would have to pay for changes to farm buildings, and there would be added productivity losses, so the price of pork would rise.