Pigs in the Pan-Pacific

A temperate climate permits use of eco-shelters in much of Australia. Sows are given rice hull bedding which provides a substrate for rooting. (QAF Meat Industries)The Pan-Pacific region of the globe holds more than half of the world's domestic swine population. At the request of the trade association Australian Pork Limited, AWI's Farm Animal Advisor, Diane Halverson, delivered the keynote speech at the Pan-Pacific Pork Expo in Brisbane, Australia in March, entitled "Responding to the Public Demand for the Humane Treatment of Pigs: On the Farm, in the Marketplace and in the Law."

Young pigs in Australia are often found in shelters open to sunlight and fresh air and with floors bedded with rice hulls, in contrast to U.S. factories where pigs are subjected to concrete slatted floors and toxic gases emitted by liquefied manure. But a large percentage of Australia's 300,000 pregnant sows languish in crates that prevent movement and socialization. Others are kept in groups with room to move; some don't have bedding, while others do.

Researchers at QAF Meat Industries are looking at adapting Swedish sow group housing (AWI Quarterly, Winter 2004) to Australian conditions. In addition, this year the voluntary "Australian Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals-the Pig," will be reviewed. Indications are that restrictions on crating pregnant sows will be adopted.

A Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the U.S. and Australia signed in May will give U.S. agricultural exporters duty free access to the land down under. Tragically, FTA threatens to further entrench U.S. pig factories by providing an additional destination for their pork. Australian senators are concerned the import of pork will expose Australia's pigs to diseases that do not yet plague the country's swine population. FTA also threatens to undermine Australia's welfare advances unless Australian consumers are able to identify and reject U.S. factory pork in the marketplace.