Kiwis might go off pork

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It is an extraordinarily rare occurrence that an animal advocacy organisation like SAFE will have something in common with NZPork (Time to end labelling porkies, April 2), but it seems that both want to see stronger standards for labelling pork – and indeed, stronger standards for labelling in general.

Of course, the devil is in the details. NZPork wants the burden of labelling to fall solely on its competitors, using country-of-origin labelling. But consumers deserve information about what they are buying from New Zealand farms too. And if the truth about our pork industry comes out, Kiwis might be put off their pork altogether.

Sad pigAfter the uproar caused by former pork PR man Mike King visiting a pig farm in 2009, and turning his back on the cruel practices, the pork industry had an opportunity to introduce strict standards, instead of waiting on a government response.

In its place, they introduced labelling standards that are likely to mislead the public. Pick up some New Zealand pork off a supermarket shelf, and you might see a “Pigcare Accredited” label next to the “100% New Zealand Pork” label. But what does it mean? It conjures images of pigs frolicking in fields, before happily walking into the slaughterhouse.

The reality is, the standards for the Pigcare label are low. So low that if a farmer fails to meet Pigcare standards, he or she may well be breaking animal cruelty laws. Pigcare accredited farms can do several things that would shock consumers. They can:

– Use sow stalls. This means a pregnant pig won’t be able to turn around for up to four weeks at a time. These stalls are being banned by the government late next year on grounds of cruelty.

– Use farrowing crates. These crates confine sows for up to six weeks after giving birth. As with sow stalls, the sow will be unable to turn around.

– Raise pigs in small, barren, concrete pens for their entire lives.

– Castrate or tail-dock piglets, without painkillers.

Whether this constitutes blatant cruelty, or whether it’s what is best for the animals as the pork industry claims, consumers have a right to know what is going on. A “Pigcare Accredited” label is worth nothing if it only requires what is legally required of all pork producers, and only serves to deceive consumers into thinking those farms are somehow better.

The pork industry isn’t the only one misleading consumers. Since 2006, the egg industry has grudgingly labelled their eggs as coming from cage systems, after significant pressure. And at the first opportunity, they are abandoning the word “cage” on their labels.

The industry has started a transition from battery cages to colony cages, as required by the Government. During this transition, all mention of “cages” is also being phased out.

Farmer Brown now provides “colony laid” eggs, while Hawke’s Bay Eggs provides “colony eggs”. Regardless as to the actual welfare status of these cages, consumers have a right to know what it is that they are supporting with their purchase decisions. Intentionally moving away from the word “cage” is a clear attempt to keep consumers in the dark.

Every industry, animal-abusing or otherwise, always seeks to promote its own interests. It comes as no surprise that NZPork’s Owen Symmans is calling for mandatory labelling that benefits his industry. But labelling standards are not for the benefit of industries. They are for the benefit of consumers who have a right to know and a right to decide.

If given the chance, Kiwis may decide to do the right thing. If the public are confronted with the truth, they might forego all factory-farmed products. They might choose kindness over cruelty. But they cannot do that if we don’t ensure that all the facts are available and out in the open.

Shanti Ahluwalia, campaign officer

This blog first appeared in The Dominion Post.

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