94 percent of Australian pork comes from pigs confined in factory farms1, where they are afforded no quality of life whatsoever. With increased community awareness about the cruelty of factory farming, the lives led by these animals are becoming an increasingly important consideration in purchasing decisions.
With no consistent or legally enforceable definitions for pig production systems in Australia, it's not easy to understand what the various logos and terms on packaging mean. Below we have attempted to demystify pork production and in doing so assist more people to make kinder choices.
NOTE: Current demand for pork, bacon and ham in Australia can only be met by factory farming. But this demand never would have existed if people knew the truth about how animals are being treated. Now that you know, the power is in your hands. Refusing factory farmed products is an important first step. But to end factory farming, animals urgently need caring consumers to also make the choice to consume less animal products. Every person who replaces some or all of the pork, bacon and ham they eat with animal-friendly alternatives helps reduce the demand that has forced animals to be so intensively farmed, bringing pigs a step closer to a world without factory farming.
Certification systems included in the table:
||Factory farmed||RSPCA Approved Indoor2||APIQ
Certified Outdoor Bred/ Certified Bred Free Range3
|RSPCA Approved Outdoor 'Bred Free Range' 3||APIQ
Certified Free Range4
Certified Free Range4
|RSPCA Approved Outdoor 'Free Range' 4||Certified organic5|
|Can pregnant mother pigs be kept in sow crates?6||Yes
|How much space needs to be provided to a pregnant pig in group housing?||1.4m2||3.5m2||Free to roam outside||Free to roam outside||Free to roam outside||Free to roam outside||Free to roam outside||Free to roam outside|
|Are mother pigs and their piglets kept in farrowing crates?7||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Are mother pigs provided bedding material for nest building in farrowing pens required?||No
(kept in crates)
|Is cutting of piglets' tails allowed?||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Is clipping of piglets' teeth allowed?||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes||
|Is provision of litter for growing pigs required?||No||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Is surgical castration of piglets permitted?||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes (with anaesthetic)||No||Yes|
|Do pigs have access to outdoors?||No||No||Breeding pigs: entire life. Pigs raised for slaughter: until 3-5 weeks old.3||Breeding pigs: entire life. Pigs raised for slaughter: until 3-5 weeks old.3||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|What is the minimum indoor space provided to growing pigs?
(based on size, the example given is for a 100kg pigs)
|0.66m2||1.03m2||0.66m2||1.03m2||0.66m2||Indoor and outdoor space provided||Indoor and outdoor space provided||Indoor & Outdoor space provided|
|Is indoor environmental enrichment provided?||No||Encouraged||No
|Are mother pigs sent to slaughter when they can no longer get pregnant?**||Yes||Yes||Yes
|Please also consider this:**|
It is important that consumers are aware that there are ethical and welfare issues common to all pig farming systems - including certified free-range and certified organic.
Regardless of the system the pigs are born and raised in, they will be transported and slaughtered in similar facilities at a young age. Whilst pigs would normally live to an average age of about 10 years, pigs destined for slaughter will be killed between 4 and 12 months of age. The mothers used for breeding (sows) are trapped in a cycle of suffering to give birth to as many piglets as possible until her body can no longer physically cope and she is sent to slaughter too - in factory farms this is usually between 2 and 3 years of age.
The transport and slaughter process is inherently stressful for the animals. Herded together in trucks to be transported for often many hours without room to lie down is a traumatic experience. At the abattoirs there is no independent oversight of the slaughter process. And whilst stunning is effective in rendering the animal unconscious before slaughter, in the vast majority of cases even in the most well managed facilities there is always a risk that the stunning procedure may fail. A small percentage of animals may need to be stunned again before losing sensibility, and on rare occasions animals may even 'wake up' during the slaughter process.
As consumers become aware of the ethical issues relating to pig farming and slaughter, more and more are choosing cruelty-free alternatives, which are readily available in most supermarkets.
1Figure calculated from Australian Pork Limited Industry Survey 2010 p7
The RSPCA Approved system accredits pig farms to RSPCA standards. Pigs on these farms can be raised in an outdoor system ('free range' or 'bred free range') or indoor system. Pigs in an RSPCA Approved indoor farm have no access to an outdoor area. However, the welfare standards are higher than in conventional factory farms.
3 'Outdoor Bred'/'Bred Free Range'
On 'bred free range' farms or 'outdoor bred' farms, sows and boars range freely outdoors in a free range system. The piglets are born in the free range system and live there until they are weaned (which is normally around 3-5 weeks of age) and are then placed into an indoor system which can be intensive indoor housing (factory farming) or a 'higher welfare' system such as an RSPCA Approved indoor farm.
The following logo accompanied by the description 'bred free range' indicates that the pigs were raised on a certified 'bred free range' or 'outdoor bred' farm.
4 'Certified Free Range'
Unfortunately, there is no legal definition of the term free range in Australia so standards between farms can vary. These logos indicate that the pigs were raised on a true free range farm.
* Note: The RSPCA Approved logo alone does not guarantee outdoor access - you may also find the RSPCA Approved logo on pig products from indoor housing systems (see above). Only products that are also labelled 'free range' contain RSPCA Approved pig products that come from farms where the pigs were raised with access to an outdoor range.
5 'Certified Organic'
Certified organic pig products come from pigs kept on farms which meet and exceed standards in the best free range facilities. However, simply the word 'organic' on packaging can sometimes mislead people to think the welfare of pigs meets certified organic standards - when it may simply mean that pigs are fed organic feed. These logos on the packaging indicate that the pigs were raised on a certified organic farm.
6 Sow Stalls
Currently it is legal to confine a mother pig (a breeding sow) for the majority of her life in a tiny individual metal crate required only to be 1cm longer and 1cm wider than her body. From 2017 the use of sow stalls will be limited to six weeks per pregnancy (this is still approximately 12 weeks per year of solitary confinement) by state regulations. Tasmania is going a step further and has pledged to outlaw sow stalls (except for 10 days per gestation) by mid 2013. The Australian pig industry has also promised to phase out sow stalls (except for 11 days per gestation) by 2017. But 1 January 2017 is still far away. Australia's two major supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, are already making significant steps to completely remove sow stalls from the supply chain of their own brand products. Coles is leading the way with a commitment to making all its own brand pork, bacon and ham products sow stall free by 2014.
7 Farrowing crates
Whilst steps are being taken to phase out sow stalls, this is not yet the case for even smaller farrowing crates. Just before giving birth, a sows is moved into a metal crates that can legally be as small as 1 square metre, leaving her with virtually no ability to move. Here she has to deliver her babies on a hard concrete or metal floor in the same area that she toilets. Due to her confinement, a mother pig is severely restricted in nurturing and interacting with her young. A sow can legally be confined in a farrowing crate for six weeks per reproductive cycle.
Factory farming causes stress and behavioural problems among pigs which can lead to aggression and injury. But rather than give pigs more space to express normal behaviour, factory farm operators subject piglets to painful surgical procedures instead. Their teeth may be cut; their tails may be sliced off - through the bone; and males can be castrated. Many pigs also have slices cut from their ears for identification. All these routine procedures are done without any pain relief.
In certified free range and organic farming the majority of these surgical procedures are unnecessary and forbidden except for individual cases where it is deemed necessary for welfare reasons. The administration of pain relief in such cases is also more common.
Other claims and logos
There are other phrases and logos used on pig products that may be perceived to suggest higher welfare such as 'All Natural', '100% Australian grown pork', 'Australian made', or the 'Australian Pork' logo as depicted below. The majority of these do not signify a higher standard of welfare than factory farmed pig products. If there is no certified free-range, certified organic or RSPCA Approved logo on the packaging, the pigs have almost certainly been raised in factory farms.
For information about labelling on other animal products, see our range of handy guides.
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