In the words of George Orwell, “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
We value some animals more than others. There are no two ways about it. We cage and consume farm animals, while treating pets like members of the family. Something needs to be done about this hypocrisy.
If you were to keep a dog or cat in the same conditions as the animals in factory farms, you would be arrested. But for pigs, who have been shown to be even more intelligent than dogs, it is perfectly fine to keep them in tiny cages for weeks at a time. (See my articles on farrowing crates and sow stalls).
It’s so easy to distance yourself from the horrors of intensive commercial farming when all you see is meat sitting on a shelf. If everyone was confronted with the reality, we wouldn’t eat nearly so much pork, beef and chicken.
The problem is that we are conditioned to think of certain animals as food, while empathising and projecting human characteristics onto others. Cow = beef. Dog = friend. Farmers warn against treating livestock too much like pets because then it will be harder when it comes time to slaughter.
Now I’m not suggesting that we start treating all farm animals like companions, but we need to treat them with some respect and acknowledge that they suffer in intensive farming operations. Not just that, but actually do something about it. Maybe one day when we’re able to grow meat cheaply in a lab we’ll be able to stop eating beef, pork and chicken, but for now if we want to satisfy our carnivorous urges the most ethical option is to buy free range.
Next time you’re buying meat, just pause for a second and consider that an animal died so that you could eat. You can afford to pay that couple of dollars extra to get free range. You’re paying for a life. That shouldn’t be cheap.
If you shop at Coles you may have seen this label stamped onto the more expensive bacon, but have you ever wondered what sow stalls actually are?
Sow stalls, also known as gestation crates, are metal cages that sows are held in during pregnancy. The stalls, normally measuring 200cm x 60cm are just long enough for the pigs to take a single step forward or backward, and they are so narrow that it is impossible for the pig to turn around. Sows can be forced to remain in these stalls for up to sixteen weeks!
Rather than individual feeding troughs, sows in stalls are often fed from one communal trough where the food gets mixed with the bodily fluids and waste from all the other sows.
Not only do they suffer psychological trauma, swollen limbs and lameness, the sows are sometimes starved in order to induce early births.
The argument that pork producers make for sow stalls is that without them sows that are housed together in pens will fight, injuring or killing each other. However a more ethical alternative is just to provide them with larger pens that allow freedom of movement. Sow stalls are nothing more than a cruel cost-saving measure of factory farms.
Fortunately the Australian pork industry has committed to phasing out sow stalls starting in 2017, but this isn’t actually a ban. Instead they will just reduce the amount of time that sows can be kept in the stalls. Still a positive step forward, but it is not enough. Sow stalls are already banned in the European Union and Canada, as well as several US states. Let’s hope Australia will be next to follow suit.
I don’t expect many of my readers to be avid pig farmers, but I thought it would be interesting to outline a few of the things that are required for optimal pig happiness.
Grass-fed meats have become very trendy and popular of late, but pigs should not be included in this category. Unlike cows, who have multiple stomachs to get the most nutrients out of grass, pigs have only one stomach and require a protein and carbohydrate rich diet to stay healthy. They also consume about 5% of their bodyweight per day; several kilograms of food. Even though they love it, swill is not legally allowed to be fed to pigs any more. There is a high risk of disease transfer from contact with raw meat.
Pigs are naturally social animals, so they should not be kept isolated. A herd of about half a dozen pigs is enough to ensure they stay happy, but more can be included as long as enough space is provided. Pigs need room to run and play. They need to be mentally stimulate them, or else ‘pig vices’ can develop such as tail biting. (See my article on tail docking for more information). Providing a large space where they can dig and forage will ensure boredom is kept at bay and the pigs are well behaved.
A covered area with straw bedding is essential for the pigs to be able to sleep. They like to sleep together, using the collective body heat to stay warm, so there should be room to accommodate all the pigs at once. Mother sows will also need their own area to nest with their piglets.
None of these requirements seem too outlandish, so it’s a wonder there aren’t more free range farms in Australia. Hopefully this will change in the future if consumers start to be more conscious of their purchasing. Please buy ethical free range pork and contribute to a positive change in the Australian pork industry.
The stress from factory farming causes unnatural behaviour in pigs. Pigs are intelligent animals that need mental stimulation. So in a cramped environment where there is nothing to do and all they see are other pigs, they develop what are known as ‘pig vices’. They bite one another on the tails. Not for any malicious purpose, just because they’re stressed and it’s something to do. It’s the only thing there is to do. Once this behaviour starts, it spreads quickly and can present risks of infection. So to curb any ‘pig vices’, the factory farms will tail dock and teeth clip.
Tail docking is carried out on piglets without anaesthetic. They are just held still and the tail is cut off with a pair of pliers. A horrifically cruel practice where the farmers carry out the very activity they are seeking to avoid. “Let’s cause a huge amount of pain to this piglet, so there’s no chance of it suffering a little bit of pain later on.” Yeah. That makes sense.
Teeth clipping is even more horrible. Again, without any anaesthetic, they use the same pliers to snip off the piglet’s teeth. Just pause for a moment and consider how horrible that sounds. And I’m totally serious. Just check this NSW government website if you don’t believe me. This is standard operating procedure for pig farms.
The teeth clipping is also supposedly to prevent sow’s teats from being bitten.
You might be thinking that these are necessary procedures because without them the pigs will injure each other. The thing is, these only happen in factory farms. It’s only in this environment where the pigs are so stressed as to resort to negative behaviours like biting each other.
Tail docking and teeth clipping aren’t done in free range and natural pig farms because they don’t need to. Pigs aren’t naturally violent towards each other. They’re social animals.
There’s really no justification for tail docking and teeth clipping. All that is needed to avoid ‘pig vices’ is a better environment for the pigs. Why not solve the overarching problem instead of just adding to it by mutilating the poor animals?
It’s just another reason to choose free range over factory farmed.
Did you know that mother sows naturally sing to their piglets while they are suckling? Pigs, like us, have strong maternal instincts.
When a sow is kept in a farrowing crate, no such singing occurs. In fact, she cries out in pain as she is trapped, unable to stand up in a darkened room. There is no relief from this trauma, because after four weeks her piglets are taken away and she will be re-impregnated; forced to face the same ordeal over and over again. When she is unable to have any more piglets she will be sent off for slaughter.
Farrowing crates were originally designed to stop the mother from accidentally crushing her piglets as she moves around. Which, to be fair, is a terrible reality of pig farming. However the cruelty involved in keeping sows in farrowing crates necessitates finding an alternative.
The problem is that farrowing crates are ‘good enough’. They do the job and they don’t cost too much money. The pork industry must care more about money than ethics or else they’d have found a solution by now. Farrowing crates have been in use since the 1960s.
While the industry is phasing out sow stalls, there are no plans to do the same for farrowing crates, despite the fact that farrowing crates are smaller and more restrictive than sow stalls.
Other countries such as Sweden and Switzerland have already banned the farrowing crate, so why shouldn’t we do the same?