Government and Industry response to factory farming pathetic

Written By: - Date published: 7:30 am, May 19th, 2009 - 44 comments
Categories: animal welfare - Tags:

When Mike King, comedian, celebrity, and front-man for the pork industry’s advertisements for the past few years found out the truth about the industry he was promoting, he says he was “deeply ashamed”. What worse news could there be for an image-conscious industry who doesn’t want their consumers and the public to know about their cruel and disgusting practices?

The following is the original video of Mike King breaking into a pig factory farm to find out for himself whether the claims by animal rights activists were true. The video was produced by NZ Open Rescue.

The response from the Minister of Agriculture, David Carter was interesting to say the least. Unlike the previous two ministers, Carter seemed initially reluctant to defend the practices in the footage he was shown. He told the Sunday Programme, “It’s a bit disturbing… To see animals in that, in those confined conditions I didn’t find it something that I was very comfortable with”

While at first glance I thought this to be a nice refreshing attitude from a new Minister, his subsequent comments have left me with no doubt that it was little more than an exercise in public relations. While claiming he suspected the conditions shown in the footage were not typical, he said he would only act if a review due later this year recommended it. Never mind that NAWAC (the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee) who will be doing the review are the same committee who recommended the current Pigs Code of Welfare which legalizes the very practices Carter claims to find disturbing.

Yesterday Carter publicly challenged SAFE to reveal the location of the farm so it can be inspected by his ministry. “The television images were disturbing. It is essential we find out if this intensive pig farming operation is in breach of the Animal Welfare Act,” he told TVNZ. “If SAFE has the welfare of these animals at heart, it needs to provide details of the property today so the authorities can the take appropriate action. I have asked MAF to undertake an inspection as soon as we know the farm’s location.”

Well today the minister is getting what he asked for. SAFE have now revealed that the owner of the farm in question is a leading pig industry representative and former director of the New Zealand Pork Industry Board, who owns five piggeries.

“The owner of the intensive piggery at the centre of public outrage is no rogue farmer. He owns several intensive piggeries worth an estimated $4m. This farm has previously been investigated by MAF, who found nothing in breach of the law. The farm is disgusting but appears to be operating within the law, so we doubt if MAF will find anything different this time,” says SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek.

So it seems the farm in question has already been investigated by MAF who found it to be operating within in the law. Footage taken by animal rights activists in 2006 which led to MAF investigating shows the same conditions as the footage shown on the Sunday Programme. Is David Carter going to waste more time and resources investigating a standard and legal practice, or will he now take real action and ensure the review later this year leads to a ban on intensive factory farming?

Prime Minister John Key in his press conference yesterday said, “I think if that is indicative of a large number of piggeries around New Zealand then there’s an absolute need for change”.

Over 22,000 pregnant sows live in sow stalls in New Zealand. It now having been revealed there was nothing illegal about the conditions on the farm exposed, will the Prime Minister immediately follow up his rhetoric with a ban?

Last night on Close Up the Chairman of the Pork Board, Chris Trengrove, also claiming to be “horrified” by the Open Rescue footage, agreed to an invitation by Close Up presenter Mark Sainsbury to accompany the programme on random checks of pig farms today. I really hope this goes ahead, and that it includes inspections not just of “show farms” the Pork Board is happy for us to see, but also those animal rights activists can give them the locations of.

While attacking National’s response on this issue, it should be noted that Labour’s track-record is even worse. I challenge the Labour Party, who currently have no official policy on factory farming to take a stance one way or the other. The public deserves to know where our political parties stand on this issue. Kudos to the Greens for having been actively opposed to factory farming for a very long time.

Having been onto half a dozen pig factory farms myself, I can state categorically that the conditions on the farm shown are typical in New Zealand. I find it beyond belief that every time footage is screened on television of factory farms (pigs or chickens), the industry claims it to be a one off example. It’s about time a real process for change was put in place and some real consultation done to find out what farming practices the public is comfortable with. Public polling shows that a large majority of the public are opposed to battery hen farming, and I imagine the figure would be largely the same for all intensive factory farming.

For those who want to take further action, I urge you to boycott all factory farmed products, and to visit SAFE’s LovePigs website and send an e-card to your local MP and the Minister David Carter.

– Rochelle Rees

44 comments on “Government and Industry response to factory farming pathetic”

  1. How could Mike King have ‘not known’ about sow crates for the last seven years that he has been living high on the hog?
    Wilful ignorance.
    Now what about That Guy and his Hellers campaign?
    Stop eating all pork for a month people. Short Sharp Industry Shock.

    • Hilary 1.1

      Sue Kedgely has been climbing in and out of sow crates for years to publicise these cruel conditions. But maybe Mike King hasn’t noticed..

  2. infused 2

    Bacon is yum.

  3. Tom Semmens 3

    Today’s headline: “Public demand investigation into pork farm scandal.”

    Tomorrow’s headline: “Consumers struggle with rising food prices.”

    Next week’s headline: “NZ Pork farmers unable to compete with cheap Chinese pork”

    Remember – our weak labelling laws mean you don’t have to label pork with country of origin.

    So really, as it stands, banning intensive pork farming will just see pork produced under even more inhumane conditions imported at a price that throws New Zealand pork farmers out of work. Anything else would be a breach of free trade rules.

    • You have just solved your own issue in your comment. If our weak labeling laws are the issue, why not change them at the same time as banning abhorrent practices in NZ?

    • Ag 3.2

      The typical right wing argument. We can’t stop torturing animals because other people who torture animals will put our former animal torturers out of business.

      Sheesh

  4. Tom Semmens 4

    Because, Rochelle, we love the WTO more than we care for pigs.

    • My understanding is that while the WTO would stop us from banning pork imports (unless there were some health concern), they would not stop us from forcing country of origin labeling.

  5. Tim Ellis 5

    I’m not sure what the point is of trying to lay the blame at a government that has only been in power for six months for the treatment of pigs that has been going on for many years.

    Good on SAFE for identifying these practises.

    I don’t think realistically banning these practises in New Zealand is an option. Already half the pork imported into New Zealand is from China and that’s been the case since the pork industry ceased being a by-product of the dairy industry in New Zealand. We can’t control the animal welfare requirements of pork production in China. If we raise the bar on domestic pork production standards then New Zealand pork will become uncompetitive and we will lose the local industry entirely, with no improvement in animal welfare standards.

    The only solution as I see it seems to be improvement of consumer awareness of the pork industry practises. Consumers need to know where their food is coming from and how it is produced, so they can make informed choices accordingly. There are complications with multiple ingredient foods, but I think consumers should know if the apples they are buying are from Chile (and if they’ve been in a cold store for six months), if their pork is from China, etc. Labour wasn’t willing to take this stuff on for fear of upsetting the supermarket chains, but I don’t think they’ve got a leg to stand on.

    Ethical pork producers need to band together and market themselves under an ethical pork brand, with certification and marketing.

    • I’m not sure what the point is of trying to lay the blame at a government that has only been in power for six months for the treatment of pigs that has been going on for many years.

      I am only blaming the current government for their current response to the issue. I will happily blame the previous Labour government for the previous 9 years, and the previous national government for the 9 years before that. How is it unfair to attack the government for refusing to agree to ban something if as they say they agree the practices are awful?

      • Tim Ellis 5.1.1

        Rochelle, like I said I don’t think banning it immediately is an option. It will see the local pork industry collapse, and then the only pork in New Zealand will be the stuff that is imported from China.

        I think the solution is to shift consumer preferences by highlighting these practises (as SAFE and King are doing), come up with an “ethical pork” brand that is certified and marketed (as the Pork industry should be doing), and make consumers aware of where their pork is coming from and how it is produced (as the retailers should be doing).

        I personally don’t buy fresh produce, whether it is meat or fruit and vegetables, unless I know where it is coming from. I don’t buy fresh produce at the supermarket because they don’t know, and they don’t care if consumers don’t know. I pay a premium for meat (which probably at least half of consumers aren’t prepared to do), but that comes down to personal choice. Right now there isn’t any personal choice because consumers don’t have any knowledge, supermarkets aren’t giving them knowledge, and the public hasn’t been made aware of the problem.

        Somebody else on another blog has pointed out the difference between farrowing crates and dry stalls. It’s also fair to say that SAFE has its own agenda to push. I had a pretty clear idea that it was one of Colin Kay’s properties, since he owns most of the pork production facilities in the Horowhenua, but I don’t think SAFE’s agenda is necessarily to produce a balanced assessment of pork industry practises.

    • felix 5.2

      Consumers need to know where their food is coming from and how it is produced, so they can make informed choices accordingly.

      I agree, this is at the heart of it.

      I’m not sure what the point is of trying to lay the blame at a government that has only been in power for six months for the treatment of pigs that has been going on for many years.

      They are in government now, so if they don’t do anything about this then they are absolutely to blame. Time for a change, isn’t it?

      • burt 5.2.1

        felix

        I think we can coast along for about 18 years without changing anything then start screaming that the industry is a result of the failed Labour govt from 1999-2008.

  6. Pat 6

    Rather than wait for Country of Origin labelling legislation, the onus is on NZ Pork board to make their own products more transparent. They need to more clearly label ALL NZ pork, ham, and bacon products with:

    – The fact is NZ made.
    – Whether it is free range.

    Just like with eggs, consumers will do the rest.

    • jarbury 6.1

      Pat – it’s pretty easy to find out which pork is and is not free range. Just go to your local supermarket.

      I think the cost difference is actually fairly negligible. I mean 50c a kg to the farmer and $2 a kg in store. That means if you buy a 200g packet of bacon the difference between free range and intensive should only be 40c.

      (I do have to say that hasn’t been my experience though as when I try to buy free range bacon the only options I come across are big packets for $9.80).

  7. Tom Semmens 7

    You don’t seem to grasp how capitalism works in New Zealand Rochelle. You appear to have the hopelessly romantic belief that the government will act nobly in the best interests of pigs and their small to medium scale free range farmers, rather than use any furtive and absurd excuse to line the pockets of powerful importers and industrial farming lobbyists.

    Effective change to something obstensibly popular – ban this sort of practice – would require the government to do lots of things that would make them unpopular with powerful segments of society. The story spun to the media wouldn’t be about the government instituting fine minded reform to make pig’s lives happier.

    It would be about putting up the price of food for Kiwi battlers trying to make ends meeet on Struggle Street. Someone would point out Pacific Islanders eat a lot of pork traditionally, and this is therefore yet another attack on the poorest New Zealanders.

    It would be about New Zealand putting in jeopardy access to huge markets like China by using labelling as an anti-competitive practice.

    It would be tear jerking stories of intergenerational family pig farms being shut down by excessive government red tape.

    Excuse my cynicism, but the problem is pigs don’t vote, and they have no money for lobbyists.

    • You don’t seem to grasp how capitalism works in New Zealand Rochelle. You appear to have the hopelessly romantic belief that the government will act nobly in the best interests of pigs and their small to medium scale free range farmers, rather than use any furtive and absurd excuse to line the pockets of powerful importers and industrial farming lobbyists.

      LOL. I wish that were true. Unfortunately I have very little if any hope that the government will do anything. Having been campaigning on animal rights issues for almost 10 years now I am not that naive.

      Effective change to something obstensibly popular – ban this sort of practice – would require the government to do lots of things that would make them unpopular with powerful segments of society.

      Quite likely. But right now for the first time on the issue of intensive pig farming it looks as though the government may suffer more damage for doing nothing,

      It would be tear jerking stories of intergenerational family pig farms being shut down by excessive government red tape.

      Intensive pig farming is a relatively modern practice – if there are as you say inter-generational family pig farms, it would be interesting to know what generations further back would think of where the industry is at.

  8. Maybe make free range GST exempt?

  9. The Voice of Reason 9

    Tim E:

    “If we raise the bar on domestic pork production standards then New Zealand pork will become uncompetitive and we will lose the local industry entirely, with no improvement in animal welfare standards.”

    Fine by me if the whole intensive farming pork industry goes. If the majority can’t behave responsibly, then it deserves to be shut down. What’s the problem with that?

    The few organic farms left will do very well indeed. Pigs happy, humans happy. Good result.

    NZ has stood for the advancement of rights, human and other animals, for at least since the vote was given to women. Why should we lower our standards because the rest of the world pork industry are a bunch of shits?

    Righto, off to get a vege muffin and an organic, collectively farmed long black. My conscience is clear!

    • Tim Ellis 9.1

      VOR wrote:

      Fine by me if the whole intensive farming pork industry goes. If the majority can’t behave responsibly, then it deserves to be shut down. What’s the problem with that?

      And what will happen as a result? Consumers will just buy more bacon and pork from China, so there will be no improvement in pork production standards.

  10. Bill 10

    Some of the economics of intensive farming practices.

    New players cannot compete against the economies of scale. Intensive farming leads to artificially low pig and chicken meat prices at the retail end. Given the buying power of the supermarkets due to their disproportionate ‘point of sale’ dominance,they can ‘dictate’ prices at the ‘farm gate’. Many consumers cannot afford the luxury of choice between more expensive organic or free-range and intensively reared meat.

    And then there are inconveniences like swine flu. Intensively reared pigs offer many, many more vectors for viral circulation and mutation. The pigs are protected from illnesses by antibiotics which eventually lose their potency. A ‘pressure cooked’ environment where viruses mutate faster and where slaughter houses are centralised means that the probability of viruses injurious to humans ‘getting out’ is much increased; containment so much more difficult.

    What is the economic impact of a virulent and deadly flu virus versus the ‘right to profit’ of industrial farming? Hmm.

  11. The Voice of Reason 11

    Yes, they will buy o’seas sourced pork products, Tim, but at least NZ will not be contributing to the misery at the production end. As I said, organic farms will cream it, which is great on an ethical basis.

    I was in a bacon factory a couple of weeks ago and their biggest concern then was swine flu irrationally influencing consumers not to buy their products. They’d had a significant drop in sales on the unfounded fear of contracting the virus via the finished product. Imagine the crap they’re in now, entirely due to their own neglect?

    They either change their methods or face a much more rational consumer backlash. China has nothing to do with it.

    PS, Tim, I do agree with your comments on transparent labelling. Very sound.

    • Bill 11.1

      “organic farms will cream it,..”

      I’d like to think so, but the reality is somewhat different.

      Where are you going to sell your organic pork? Unless you have a very large operation, you are effectively locked out from the supermarkets (New World being, I believe, the only exception insofar as individual stores can enter in to supply arrangements)

      Butchers are increasingly rare thanks, in part, to supermarkets wrapping up the supply chain, forcing prices down and eliminating competition.

      What’s left? Farmers markets?

      Then there is the price you have to charge the customer and the fact that that price is far too high for most customers whether looked at in relation to cheap industrial meat or not.

    • Tim Ellis 11.2

      Yes, they will buy o’seas sourced pork products, Tim, but at least NZ will not be contributing to the misery at the production end. As I said, organic farms will cream it, which is great on an ethical basis.

      Organic and free range/ethical pork farms won’t cream it unless they develop a brand, certify the product, promote it, and ensure consumers know the difference. It is in the interests of the domestic pork industry to make sure this happens. It’s not in the interests of the supermarkets to make sure this happens. I don’t see a feasible non-regulatory outcome to food labelling. The supermarkets will try hard to resist it, but they’ve been operating as a monopoly for the last couple of years and the last government did nothing.

      Pork is a great source of protein. Consumers aren’t going to stop buying pork, because it’s cheaper than lamb or beef. Half the households in New Zealand aren’t able to afford to pay for premium products, and that isn’t going to change. If intensive pig farming domestically is banned, then consumers aren’t going to stop buying imported pork products. They will continue to buy what is cheapest.

      The local pork industry can and should make commitments to moving towards ethical pork production, but we can’t expect that to happen overnight. Colin Kay has been planning high tech, ethical production facilities in Levin for the last three years. It will take at least five years to shift current intensive production facilities to ethical facilities, when you include investment raising, planning and resource consenting and construction.

      Shut down all facilities now by banning it overnight, and you won’t see any improvement in pig welfare. People won’t stop buying pork. New Zealand’s contribution to pig welfare (that is, the pork consumed in New Zealand) will deteriorate.

      It is possible for the New Zealand pork industry to make a commitment with a proper timetable to produce ethical-only pork marketed under the New Zealand Pork brand within the next five years, and work with producers to meet those standards. That gives them time to build the facilities and create the ethical pork brand in New Zealand and international markets.

  12. Tom Semmens 12

    Actually – here are the statistics. 43% of our pork is imported. Well over half comes from North America, where massive factory farms are the rule.

    http://www.nzpork.co.nz/Portals/NZPib/Documents/Publications/March%202009%20Imports%20Report.pdf

  13. roger nome 13

    I’d like to see a ban on all factory farmed meat-products. The planet wins (less GHGs), people win (eating less meat means better health) and the animals win. Dreams are free though.

  14. marianne macdonald 14

    It amazes me that anyone can defend the intensive rearing of pigs in New Zealand. Practises which are clearly extremely cruel!

    Some have suggested that we should continue with these practises because otherwise we’ll just be flooded with overseas products (and some have implied that these would be produced in even worse conditions it would be hard to keep pigs alive in conditions that are much worse than those I’ve seen in New Zealand sheds). As has already been stated, labelling is a clear answer, so that informed consumers can keep New Zealand free range pig farmers in business. Just because other countries continue with barbaric practises, doesn’t mean that we need to follow the lowest common denominator.

    So what about the large numbers of Maori and Pacific Islanders who consume huge amounts of pork? Yes that’s a problem, but not just for the pigs. It is recognised scientifically that this high reliance on saturated fat is causing people health problems, including childhood obesity, which are already burdening our struggling health system and it is only going to get worse. Rather than accept the status quo, there needs to be pressure placed to change these eating habits, instead of just trying to keep pig meat cheap.

    When economics are put before the welfare of sentient creatures, there is little hope that our nation is going to improve towards a more civilised society; away from the attitudes that “Might is Right’ and to hell with who suffers. Economic arguments were the mainstay of those who fought to keep the human slave trade in operation in years gone by. A pig has a similar intelligence to a three year old child. So should we go back to using children in factories, just because they can’t stop us? Are we that morally bankrupt?

  15. Olivia 15

    Assuming the government decides to ban factory farming practices in NZ would they not then be able to put a ban on imported factory farmed products too? That way people will know that all meat in NZ is free range and the local free range farmers wouldn’t feel they’ve been treated unfairly.

    I agree labelling has to become much more accurate and truthful. Surely that can be enforced for imported products too.

    • Tim Ellis 15.1

      Olivia, I think we’d be found pretty smartly to be in breach of the free trade agreement with China that the Labour government signed last year if we banned all imported factory farmed pork.

  16. RedLogix 16

    Had to buy a bicycle last week; this week I’m going vegetarian.

    Tres bastard actually living up to all these principles.

    • burt 16.1

      Good on ya Redlogix – have ya ridden it yet ?

    • The Voice of Reason 16.2

      Try asking Lisa Simpson, Red. The ‘vegetarian’ episode is one of the Simmo’s best, especially this exchange when she announces her rejection of meat:

      Lisa: No I can’t! I can’t eat any of them!
      Homer: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute! Lisa honey, are you
      saying you’re never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
      Lisa: No.
      Homer: Ham?
      Lisa: No.
      Homer: Pork chops?
      Lisa: Dad! Those all come from the same animal!
      Homer: (laughing sarcastically) Yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.

      It’s the general ignorance about food and farming that has set up this high level of public outrage. If we knew exactly what went on in piggeries, they would have been regulated years ago. But, as the tobacco industry battles have shown, ignorance is the shield of the morally indefensible.

      • Tim Ellis 16.2.1

        It certainly makes me wonder just how effective the Labour government was, not coming up with any solutions to this over nine years.

        • r0b 16.2.1.1

          It certainly makes me wonder just how effective the previous National government was, not coming up with any solutions to this over nine years.

          And so on, and so on.

          The problem has achieved public prominence now. It is the government of now that has to deal with it. And I hope they do. Oh – and battery farmed chickens too while we’re at it.

          • Tim Ellis 16.2.1.1.1

            r0b, the Labour government had the Greens supporting them for nine years. It was always a major issue for the Greens. It is a bit baffling that they didn’t manage to make any headway in the last labour government, though.

          • r0b 16.2.1.1.2

            Tim, I agree, the last Labour government should have fixed this. And the National one before that. And so on.

            But it is now the problem of the current government. What are they going to do?

  17. Boycott NZ Pork and Bacon 17

    If you feel strongly about this inhumane practice please join the Facebook group:

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=88021900372

    (Facebook Users Against NZ Pork and Bacon)

  18. George D 18

    The reason we have this situation is because for the last nine years, Jim Sutton and then Jim Anderton allowed New Zealand’s meat industries to openly break the law. Pure and simple.

    The rest of the Government knew this was happening, but chose to look the other way. Would rather keep the industry on side than do the right thing. Labour is filled with gutless cowards.

    At Carter is prepared to even consider publicly doing the right thing.

    • George D 18.1

      And then publicly consider not doing the right thing…

      Like Labour, he’s realised that he wants to keep the industry on side – which requires either doing nothing or very weak and gradual “reform”. I expect to see the latter announced later this week.

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