Minister backflips on sow stall ban

In a devastating blow to the welfare of pregnant pigs, Tasmania's Minister for Primary Industries, Bryan Green, will renege on the government's earlier promise to ban sow stalls across the state.

Mr Green has now stated in government hearings his intention to allow sows to be confined in stalls for up to 10 days after mating, as reported by ABC TV's 7.30 Tasmania.

Most pregnant pigs in Australia are confined to lives of chronic suffering in sow stalls. These are small metal and concrete cages that are barely larger than the mother pig's body, preventing basic movements such as turning around.

When the Tasmanian government announced in its 2012-2013 budget that it would fast track its planned ban on the use of sow stalls, as well as phase out battery hen farming, it was heralded as the national leader in farm animal welfare, leading the development of sustainable and more humane animal husbandry practices in Australia.

Mr Green said funding in the budget would help pork producers transition out of sow stalls by the middle of 2013 and previously stated that these “law changes will help pork and egg producers respond to growing consumer demands in specific market segments and further enhance Tasmania's brand values”.

Yet within months of this momentous announcement, the minister has broken his word and will allow sow stalls to continue to be used on Tasmanian farms.

Such a backflip would ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence that sow stalls cause high levels of stress and suffering for pigs, to be discussed in an upcoming Voiceless report titled "Science and Sense: The case for abolishing sow stalls".

Australian Pork Limited, the producer representative body, has previously announced a voluntary ban on the use of sow stalls, yet even this "ban" allows for up to 11 days of sow stall confinement for pigs and is not binding on individual producers.

With greater strength and frequency the Australian public is making its voice heard, speaking out against factory farms in which pigs are kept permanently confined indoors on concrete and surrounded by metal bars, mutilated without pain relief and denied all meaningful social contact.

Interestingly, Coles has announced that from January 2013 its brand name pork, ham and bacon products will not be sourced from any Australian or international supplier which houses pigs in sow stalls for more than 24 hours per pregnancy. Woolworths says 98 per cent of its fresh pork suppliers operate sow stall free farms and it expects all of its fresh pork to be produced in stall free conditions by mid-2013.

Both Coles and Woolworths have confirmed that their definitions of "sow stall free" will not allow for sows to be confined in stalls for the 10 days proposed by the Tasmanian government, meaning that any producer using the devices for this period will be excluded as a supplier to those companies.

While Tasmania's pig industry is relatively small compared with the wider national market, the significance of this event lies in Tasmania's role as part of a national process for the regulation of animal welfare.

By reneging on this promise to ban sow stalls, the Tasmanian government is delaying the national push for greater protection of the millions of animals produced for food in this country.

Ruth Hatten is the Voiceless Legal Counsel.

The story Minister backflips on sow stall ban first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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