Animal Welfare (Pig Industry) Regulations 2010 - Disallowance


Extract from uncorrected Hansard
[COUNCIL — Tuesday, 5 April 2011]
Hon Lynn MacLaren; Hon Philip Gardiner; Hon Jon Ford; Hon Robyn McSweeney
Uncorrected Proof — Not to be Quoted or Distributed



Pursuant to standing order 152(b), the following motion by Hon Lynn MacLaren was moved pro forma on 16 February —

That the words — for more than 6 weeks of any gestation period unless the pig is —
(a) under veterinary care; or
(b) receiving additional care,

in regulation 13(4) of the Animal Welfare (Pig Industry) Regulations 2010 published in the Government Gazette on 5 November 2010 and tabled in the Legislative Council on 9 November 2010, under the Animal Welfare Act 2002, be and are hereby disallowed.

HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [3.13 pm]: The effect of this motion is to bring state regulations into line with the pig industry’s voluntary commitment to phase out the use of gestation stalls by 2017. The motion, if supported, deletes only a few lines in the Animal Welfare (Pig Industry) Regulations 2010 that were gazetted on 5 November 2010. In the same month that the regulations were tabled in this house, the producer representative body, Australian Pork Limited, voted to “commit to pursuing voluntary phasing out of the use of gestation stalls by 2017”. Therefore, that part of the regulation that permits the use of sow stalls after 2017 is redundant. Had the minister the foresight to predict that the industry itself would voluntarily move to discontinue the use of these stalls, I would hope he would have overseen the revision of these regulations before gazettal to reflect the industry commitment. After all, the Australian pig industry is evolving along the same trajectory as industries around the world, improving the welfare of the millions of animals used in food production.

These improvements are driven by consumer sentiment as much as scientific evidence that better welfare produces a better product. Sow stalls were initially introduced by the intensive pig industry in order to minimise the amount of housing space for pregnant pigs and to make it easy for relatively unskilled operatives to manage the pigs. Regardless of the rationale for their use, there is no justification other than an economic justification for them being only a fraction larger than a pregnant sow’s body. For those who weigh up the production benefits, there are compelling arguments to support the industry transition from the use of sow stalls. For me, the welfare of these pregnant pigs is enough reason to support the discontinuation of the tight confinement during the gestation period. However members may arrive at the decision to support the discontinuation of the use of sow stalls, I ask that they support this motion.

To summarise the supporting arguments, I want to take a few minutes to provide a short background on sow stalls and their use, briefly update members on the worldwide trends in animal welfare and then give a short description of the conclusions of the scientific evidence that we have on pig housing.

Sow stalls are cages that are made of metal bars used to confine pigs during pregnancy. The cage is permitted to be just slightly larger than the pig. Dimensions of a sow stall are about two metres by 0.6 of a metre. If anyone has recently seen the footage on the RSPCA documentaries on television, they would have seen that these animals do not have room to turn around and they find it very difficult to stand up and lie down. In 2009 there were 28 000 breeding sows in Western Australia. I know that at least a quarter of them are on free-range or bred on free-range farms. Another high number of them spend a great deal of their lives outside these stalls. However, a number of them still live their lives in these stalls. Pregnant pigs may be confined to a stall for the entire duration of their pregnancy, which is 16 weeks. The RSPCA says that breeding pigs can be confined all their adult life if a piggery keeps the sow pregnant; that is, continually pregnant.

Welfare improvements in piggeries have gained momentum worldwide. The United Kingdom and Sweden banned sow stalls from 1999 and 2002 respectively. Despite the absence of sow stalls in those countries, the productivity of sows in the UK surpasses that of Sweden and equates to the productivity of sows in Australia, which clearly indicates that keeping sows in group housing can achieve equivalent or better productivity compared with stall-based sow systems. Rivalea Australia, with 17 per cent of the breeding sow herd and the biggest pork producer in Australia, recently stated — Rivalea is committed to the removal of all pregnant sow stalls, the original goal was to complete this major project in 2017 … Currently more than two-thirds of our sows spend all or most of their pregnancy in group housing.

Smithfield Foods of the United States, the largest pork producer in the world, has also committed to phasing out sow stalls. Cargill, another large US pig producer, has announced similar moves away from the use of these sow stalls, although not amounting to a complete phase-out. There are no fewer than six American states where sow stalls are banned. In December 2010, the New Zealand government announced that sow stalls would be banned after 2015. This ban was based on a detailed analysis of the relevant science by the New Zealand Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.

Coles has announced that from 2014 it will not sell pork in its butchery for processed ham and bacon products that are produced either in Australia or overseas, which are sourced from animals which have been housed in sow stalls. Australian Pork Limited, the producer representative body, announced at its November 2010 meeting—members will remember this was when the regulations were already in the pipeline and already tabled in this house—that it had voted to commit to pursuing the voluntary phasing out of the use of gestation stalls by 2017. I draw to members’ attention that that same meeting also resolved that Australian pork producers recognised the welfare benefits of gestation stalls, the cost of such a change and the need for research, investment and offsets to support the voluntary commitment to this change. Based on an assessment by the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, which included detailed consideration of welfare and  productivity implications, the relevant Tasmanian minister said that sow stalls would be banned in that state from 2017. In January 2011—just a few months ago—the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation announced its members would phase-out sow stalls in that country—again probably from 2017.

These changes are supported by scientific evidence that keeping pigs in sow stalls is detrimental to their welfare and that it provides no improvement in productivity over well-managed group housing. It is also inhumane, as evidenced by the fact that if a domestic animal were to be confined in the same way for such long periods, I put it to members, there would be an outcry.

A brief review of the current science that relates to the housing of pregnant sows in stalls compared with groups shows that pregnant pigs in stalls are virtually unable to express many important natural behaviours, that sows in stalls suffer severe behavioural impairment, as indicated by the high incidence of stereotypic and other abnormal behaviour indicative of poor welfare and that sows in stalls suffer significant leg problems resulting in lameness. Sows in groups may suffer from aggressive interaction with other sows, but this can be controlled by good management techniques, particularly the use of partial sow stalls to afford protection to individual sows while feeding. The reproductive performance of sows housed in either stalls or groups is equivalent, where properly managed group housing is employed. Consequently, the current animal welfare science supports a ban on the use of sow stalls in Australia.

The points I have just made summarise the scientific evidence relating to the housing of pregnant sows in stalls. Rather than going to the details of this, I seek leave to table a seven-page report by Dr Malcolm Caulfield titled “The current status of animal welfare science relating to housing of pregnant sows”. Leave granted. [See paper 3202.]

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Several reviews of industry practice herald changes in pig housing. A statement by the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare said in June 1990, which goes directly to the industry’s response that they have not had enough time to deal with this, that noting the advantages of stalls, it believed it to be an undesirable means of restraint and that future trends in housing the dry sow should be away from individually confined stall systems, and this can be reflected in the codes of practice. The second edition of the Pig Code said that practicable alternatives to current conventional stalls, which is what we mean by group housing, should be considered as they are developed.

The major multi-expert review that led to the reduction of sow stall use in the European Union said way back in 1997 that since overall welfare appears to be better when sows are not confined throughout gestation, sows should preferably be kept in groups.

In a major review of the scientific literature, the American Veterinary Medical Association supports this. Although the industry representative body, the APL, which I have already mentioned, has asserted that the science says the continued use of sow stalls is essential for welfare, it is clear that they are aware that this assertion is, in fact, untrue. They have an internal document that says exactly the opposite, which states that well-managed group housing systems have been shown to be capable of delivering similar animal welfare and productivity outcomes to those obtained in stalls. It is well established that sows kept in stalls suffer major behavioural problems, reduced cardiovascular fitness, reduced muscle weight and bone strength and undergo high levels of culling due to lameness. This is supported by an EU council report, which concludes that housing stalls and crates will expose them to the same welfare hazards, including frustration, stress and impaired getting up and lying down movements. Crating affects the health of the limbs and the muscular strength.

A practicable alternative to sow stall housing is to modify the existing sow stalls allowing their use as individual feeding stations in combination with group housing, which reduces this inter-sow aggression during feeding. In wrapping up, I would like to refute the reasons that were given to me for opposing the motion by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Hon Terry Redman, and a pork industry spokesman. The industry said that it needs more time. The industry has already agreed to voluntarily phase-out sow stalls by 2017. They have known this has been on the cards for a while, as evidence by the 1990 Senate select committee findings that I quoted

Hon Col Holt: Did the industry representative body agree to that?

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Yes, the APL is the industry representative body.

Hon Col Holt: Not all pig producers belong to that.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Hon Col Holt is exactly right, and not all pig producers are opposed to this. I am very grateful that the honourable member pointed that out.

Why would they not want regulation if this is just an empty promise? This is what we have an opportunity to address here today.

The industry also says that most sows in WA are not kept like this. That is great news! I pointed out the statistics that were released by some of the industry spokesmen only this week. The industry has nothing to lose from this regulation being adopted, and we allow them six years to prepare for this to be in place. The clause that I am talking about does not come into effect until 2017.

My final point is that it is due mostly to the diligence of an animal welfare lawyer who was aware of the industry announcement at its annual general meeting and, at about the same time, of the tabling of our regulations that I am able to provide the Legislative Council with an opportunity to intervene at this late stage of the approval of these regulations. It is my contention that we should vote today to bring the regulations up to date. This is the intended role of the Legislative Council as a house of review and we would be justified in believing it was a job well done.

Authorised by Lynn MacLaren © 2018

Hon Lynn MacLaren MLC - Member for South Metropolitan Region (2009-2017)
Legislative Council, Parliament of Western Australia