Australian pig farmers on the path to sow stall-free pork

By By Lee Adendorff, in Byron Bay, Australia

- Last updated on GMT

Australia on the way to almost total sow stall elimination
Australia on the way to almost total sow stall elimination

Related tags Pig Livestock Pork

Meat industry association Australian Pork Limited (APL) has told that Australian piggeries are well on the way to an almost total elimination of sow gestation stalls by 2017. It said an estimated 65% of pigmeat enterprises in 2014 were already phasing out using cages to restrict a sow’s movements during pregnancy.

The voluntary adoption of the policy by the pork industry has been driven by demands from the Australian supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths, with Coles a particularly outspoken supporter of the elimination of sow stalls. Coles has said it is responding to consumer sentiment for more “responsibly sourced products”.

Animal rights groups have also played their part, with organisations such as Animal Liberation NSW (New South Wales) publishing covertly filmed videos of stall conditions from some Australian piggeries last year in a major media campaign.

There is no specific legislation to ban the use of gestation stalls in Australia, and even under the voluntary scheme promoted by APL, a short amount of time (five days during the entire gestation period of 16 weeks) of stall time for a sow is considered acceptable.

APL CEO Andrew Spencer told that producers were however “strongly motivated by the market”​ and the dictates of the two major supermarkets to phase out the practice. “This is a developing standard, but from our perspective it means that 90% of the time is free [from the use of sow stalls],”​ he said.  

While this stricter standard is being slowly adopted by local producers, this is not the case for 75% of locally manufactured products, such as bacon and ham, that are made from imported pork, often sourced from European countries where ‘sow stall free’ can still mean up to four weeks in a stall during gestation, despite EU laws banning the practice.

According to the Free Range Pastured Pork Farmers group spokesperson Lee McCosker, some traditional Australian piggeries have found it uneconomical to upgrade their infrastructure to alternative sow gestation management, and have left the industry altogether, while free-range pig farmers face an altogether different prospect. “Demand is so high that free-range farmers can command 80-100% more for their pigs in boutique butchers or at farmers’ markets where consumers are prepared to pay more for quality,”​ she said.

APL has recently expanded its extensive quality certification scheme called APIQ (Australian Pork Industry Quality Programme) that certifies around 90% of Australia’s 4.8 million pigs, to include an optional module for sow stall certification by independent assessors.

The Australian industry has fluctuated between production of between 380,000 tonnes (t) and 350,000t of pork per year between 2005/06 and 2011/12, while imports have increased significantly from 72,232t in 2005/06 to 141,913t in 2011/12, according to APL figures.

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