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Go the whole hog – how ‘Woolies’, PnP face the horrors of pig farming

I’m not a vegetarian. I just don’t eat meat. Even when I did eat meat decades ago, I couldn’t stomach the idea of eating pigs. I eat a little fish, and chicken if I absolutely have to, but more and more, the thought of flesh foods switches me right off. So does intensive pig farming, especially in South Africa, where animal rights activists say pigs face especially harsh treatment. Biznews’s favourite blogger Caroline Hurry got under Woolworths’ skin recently with her open letter to the retail chain on its increasing sales of GMO foods. Here Hurry takes aim at conventional pig farming industry , and food retail giant Pick n Pay as well as ‘Woolies’, for ‘passing the buck’ –  or in this case, the pig – on the animals’ suffering. MS

By Caroline Hurry

pig farming
Intensive farming confines pigs to concrete stalls with no stimulation.
Image: Compassion in World Farming.

Many a dog of my acquaintance gets regular presents, cuddles, sometimes even their own TV room. Yet few of us pause to consider the life of a pig – even more intelligent than the average hound – kept in cages so tiny they cannot move. That’s simply so farmers and supermarket shareholders can bring home even more bacon.

Intensive farming confines pigs to concrete stalls with no  stimulation. The Going Whole Hog  campaign launched last year, had a positive response from consumers, retailers, and restaurants that care about humane farming. Just as the chains that put profit before their customers’ desire for GM-free food and ethically farmed meat, the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation ( SAPPO) has accused Going Whole Hog of disseminating “vitriol” and misleading the public.

In a press release, SAPPO said the Going Whole Hog campaign was a front to ensure the decimation of the South African pig industry’s reputation and “by extension the livelihoods of pig farmers across the country”. Ironically, their accusations focused consumer attention on the hell that factory farmed pigs go through.

Going Whole Hog co-ordinator Mark Fox denies SAPPO’s allegations: “It is consumers themselves who are against factory farmed food,” he says.

“We are part of a change towards free-range and pasture-reared pork and believe farmers will adapt. We welcome an open debate with SAPPO and support transparency and consumer access to SAPPO’s farms.”

Going Whole Hog will continue to inform the consumer and fight for humanely produced food, Fox says.

“We are responding to consumer demands, and helping to create a move away from the factory farming of pigs.

Caroline Hurry
Blogger Caroline Hurry argues for humanely reared pork free from GMOs

“Proposed regulations in the phasing out of gestation crates has been postponed from 2016 to 2020, which means pigs have to endure another six years of cruelty. As things stand today, pregnant pigs are unable to move in sow stalls and their behavioural needs are not accommodated, even in a deep litter set-up,” Fox says.

Pigs are highly intelligent, sociable beings that would normally roam up to 15km a day in the wild, forage for food and wallow in mud.

Inhumane farming

Cape veterinarian Brett Bard says: “Intensive commercial pig farming is inhumane and unethical in the extreme, (especially) the practice of keeping sows in gestation crates and farrowing stalls for most of their lives, plus castration and tail docking in piglets, performed without anaesthetic.

“The industry justifies these cruel methods in direct contravention of the Animal Protection Act stating that pigs should have access to the outdoors to express natural behaviour, and to be free from mutilation.

“SAPPO should provide a list of all their farmers for members of the public to see for themselves where their pork comes from, or at the very least allow an independent body to assess the current situation.”

Factory farmed pigs get antibiotics, growth hormones, a genetically modified diet, and their stressed miserable lives that pump the meat full of stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. That cheap meat on your plate contains a cocktail of health hazards.

pig farming
A naturally foraging pig feeds on grain, legumes, insects, grubs, leafy greens and grasses which are all high in omega-3 oils and change the composition of the pork fat we eat.
Image: Compassion in World Farming.

“Going Whole Hog brings these issues to light,” says Sonia de Villiers of Grass Consumer Action Group.

“SAPPO should encourage transparency by way of farm and processing plants visits if they want to assuage the concerns of South African consumers.

“SAPPO have attempted to silence this campaign even as more and more conscious consumers demand more ethical farming practices.” (Just discovered SAPPO blocked their email address below – Caroline Hurry.)

“Woolworths and Pick n Pay are passing the buck by saying they are in line with SAPPO standards,” says De Villiers. “That is no longer good enough for consumers as they discover that they have been misled time and again.”

Consumers are increasingly able to make ethical choices as shocking factory farming practices in South Africa are revealed, she says.

“Their own health is intrinsically linked to the way these animals are farmed. It is telling that Shoprite (Checkers) is leading the way while Woolworths lags far behind on this issue,” De Villiers says

“Going the Whole Hog Campaign is thus important to all pork consumers, not only the pigs.”

Pick n Pay says: “Under the free range protocol, pigs are free to roam in dry sow units and … during the farrowing phase, they are placed in a farrowing pen to prevent injury to their newly born piglets.”

However, how animals can “roam” in “dry sow units” when these are banned in Denmark (along with routine mutilation) for being too confining, is beyond me. Pick n Pay also remains tight-lipped on  stock densities of these indoor barns and how long the pig is kept in this farrowing pen.

Humane Society International  programme manager for Africa Tozie Zokufa says. “South Africa needs new regulations to promote better animal welfare (and policing thereof).

“Much could be achieved for animals, by just adhering to the Animals’ Protection Act of 1962 but without public pressure, animal welfare will be placed last on the priority list.”

A naturally foraging pig feeds on grain, legumes, insects, grubs, leafy greens and grasses which are all high in omega-3 oils and change the composition of the pork fat we eat.”

Open-pen farming

Richard Bosman, who uses genuine pasture-reared pork for his “quality cured meat” products, says: “What does open-pen farming mean? Having 500 pigs in an open pen encompassing the corn, genetically modified soy, hormones and antibiotics used in commercial pig farming operation?

“The solution is simple. Tell the public where the pork comes from, let them visit the farm and make up their own minds.”

Independent sustainability advisor Mpumelelo Ncwadi, of the Indwe Trust, says: “Conventional pig farming is big business.This industrial model of food production is what conscious consumers are strongly challenging.”

Adds butcher Ryan Bool who supplies pasture-reared pork: “SAPPO should know the ‘public’ are the very people questioning their practices.”

So it’s hats off to Charlie Crowther from Glen Oakes, the only farmer in SA currently feeding his happy pigs GM-free food. If  you want to eat humanely reared pork free from GMOs, give him your support.

We are your consumers. So no, SAPPO, we won’t go – not until you and retailers show transparency about suppliers. Here’s what to do:

 

  • Woolworths has responded, saying: (We) take great care about the welfare of farmed animals. We have strict guidelines that are independently audited. We are aware of the concerns around the use of gestation crates. We are currently at an advanced stage of implementing alternatives. Some of our pork farmers have already changed from sow stalls to group housing systems; the balance are expected to change within 12 months, if not sooner. Woolworths does not permit the castration of pigs. This practice was stopped about six years ago. We are concerned about the biosafety risks posed by regular visits to our farms by customers and other interested organisations. Instead we have independent auditors who verify compliance. We have, however, on occasion taken media to visit our farms.” – MS
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