A recent survey showed that producers are making good progress on the phase out but Emily Mackintosh, general manager of communication for Australian Pork (APL), told Globalmeatnews.com that the industry could be hit by extra costs as a result of the increased demand for labour and skilled staff to meet the specialist needs of alternative housing systems.
“With the increase in labour costs, there will be an impact on profit margins in the short- to medium term while implementation takes place and farm management systems adapt,” she said.
“As a result, the profitability of Australian pork production could potentially decrease, especially while cheaper pork products from overseas would continue to maintain pressure on our share of the processed pork market – of which Australia has some 30%.
“Additionally, imports are not required to meet the same animal welfare standards as Australia, thereby further eroding the industry’s competitiveness; and our ability to differentiate our product is also constrained by a lack of clarity around country of origin labelling (COOL).”
However, Mackintosh said the industry hoped that, by voluntarily phasing out sow stalls, it would provide a point of differentiation for Australian pork and reclaim the agenda around consumer perceptions of domestic pig welfare.
“The industry is growing more confident that this move will bring long-term benefits to Australian pork, as more and more pressure comes on traditional agricultural production systems to change to meet the expectations of today’s modern consumer,” she said.
Mackintosh added that the industry has been working hard with government, retailers, processors and other stakeholders to minimise the impact of the sow stall phase-out, with a focus on imports and labelling of produce; investment in infrastructure; environmental planning and state government and local councils; labour supply and skilling; and the future Standards and Guidelines (Model Code) review.
APL delegates – who are voted in as national representatives for the pork industry – agreed in 2010 to voluntarily phase out sow gestation stalls by 2015. Mackintosh said the decision was a response to growing consumer concern, as well as government and political pressure, over the welfare of pigs on farms.
“Over the past five years, in particular, the Australian pork industry has witnessed a substantial growth in concerns among consumers, politicians, retailers and the general community about the welfare of pigs on farms. The focus of this concern centres on the use of gestation stalls,” she said.
“In June 2010, the Tasmanian state government announced legislation to phase out gestation stalls by 2017 and a major retailer, Coles, also announced in July 2010 that it would not be selling (fresh) pork sourced from gestation stall systems. Some larger producers have already committed to phasing out gestation stalls.”
A recent survey conducted by APL suggested that the industry is making good progress, with one in three sows (33%) in Australia now not housed in stalls at any point of their pregnancy.