Sow stalls

Still widespread, five years after the industry's phase-out deadline

Our damning new investigation reveals how the Australian pig farming industry, and its largest company Sunpork, have been deceiving the public on their use of small cages for mother pigs.

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Sow stalls are small cages in which mother pigs are individually confined prior to giving birth. In these cages, they are unable to turn around; they can only stand up, lie down, or take one or two steps forwards or backwards.

In 2010, following exposure by activists and mounting public pressure, the Australian pork industry committed to phasing out sow stalls by 2017. Understandably, most consumers would assume that this means sow stalls – or any small cages for sows – were eliminated five years ago (a 2021 Roy Morgan Research poll found that 71.6% of people believe products labelled as 'sow stall free' should not come from pigs who spent any time in any form of individual confinement). The lesser-known caveat, however, is that cages are still permitted to be used for up to five days after sows are impregnated. Australian Pork Limited's website currently states:

"The Australian pork industry has taken a world-leading position by voluntarily committing to phasing out sow stalls. This means sows will not be confined in stalls from five days after they are last mated until one week before farrowing when they are then moved into farrowing accommodation.

The Australian pork industry committed to voluntarily phasing out sow stalls by 2017. This came after many years of research into alternative housing methods. Today, we aim to ensure sows are kept in loose housing from five days after mating, until one week before they are ready to give birth."

This five day limit is not monitored or enforced, meaning there’s nothing to stop pig farmers keeping pigs in cages for longer periods of time. 

Farm Transparency Project investigators visited six Victorian piggeries in early 2022, all with sow cages in active use, five years after the phase-out was to come into effect. Hidden cameras were installed at two of the locations (Midland Bacon at Carag Carag, and Markanda Piggery at Wyuna), which revealed that sows were confined to the cages for weeks at a time – 27 days at Midland, and at least 26 days at Markanda at which point the cameras were removed.

The hidden cameras at Midland also reveal workers kicking and jabbing sows with a metal pole to get them to move.

One of these piggeries, Gowanbrae at Pine Lodge (near Shepparton), is owned by Sunpork. Sunpork is Australia’s largest pork producer, and supplies to Coles, Woolworths, IGA, Costco, and international supermarkets including Countdown. Sunpork’s website states:

“As one of the first pig producers in the country to eliminate sow stalls, we understand that ethically reared produce is critical to success.”

The footage shows sows packed so tightly together that their legs are underneath the sow in the cage next to them. One sow is seen urinating on the legs of another as there’s no room to avoid it. Other sows show obvious signs of distress – repeatedly biting at the bars of the cage, bobbing and weaving their head, or pushing their head through the bars.

It is presumed that there are many more piggeries across Victoria and the rest of the country that are still confining mother pigs to cages for long periods at a time, despite Australian Pork Limited assuring the public that they were phased out five years ago. Farm Transparency Project is calling on the Andrews government to step in and implement a legislative ban on the cruel practice, in order to force the industry into compliance.

It's important to note, however, that the vast majority of pig farms in Australia still confine pigs to small cages in 'farrowing crates', for an average of six weeks at at time. Regardless of how they are raised, most pigs are killed in horrific gas chambers. As a consumer, the only way to avoid paying for cruelty in the pig farming industry is to stop eating pigs altogether.

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