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.
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?