Farrowing crates: The most significant animal welfare court case in NZ history


Zac Fleming,Newshub (New Zealand) 



More than half of New Zealand's pig farmers could be left in financial ruin if a first-of-its-kind court challenge is successful.


The High Court is reviewing whether the use of cages in pig farming is actually illegal under the Animal Welfare Act.


It's the first case of its kind in New Zealand and "the most significant animal welfare decision and case in a generation", according to Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere, a senior law lecturer at the University of Otago.


About 60 percent of pigs farmed in New Zealand are raised indoors. Most of them are inseminated in cages, and forced to give birth and raise their piglets in cages - known as farrowing.


Mother pigs, or sows, can only take a few steps forward and back in the cages. They cannot turn around, and cannot perform instinctive behaviours, like nest building.


"It's severe behavioural restriction, and physical restriction, for the breeding sow," said the SPCA's senior science officer, Rob Gregory.


Animal welfare groups have been trying to get farrowing crates banned for years. They were the subject of one of the largest ever parliamentary petitions, by SAFE, with 112,000 signatures.


But the pork industry says farrowing crates are essential because they protect piglets by making it less likely for them to be crushed by their mother.


One or two piglets on average are saved per litter on indoor caged farms, compared to outdoor farms.


Farrowing crates are so contentious, there is disagreement about what to call them. They are technically cages, but the Government calls them crates, and the pork industry calls them pens, saying it's a "dramatisation" to call them cages.


Now the fight to have them banned has gone to the High Court in Wellington.


SAFE and the Animal Law Association, represented by Queen's Counsel Gillian Coumbe, have asked the court for a judicial review of the Government's decision to allow cages to be used in pig farming.


The respondents are the Attorney-General, the Ministry for Primary Industries, and the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC).


The case hinges on the relationship between the Pig Code of Welfare, created by NAWAC, and the Animal Welfare Act.


There are codes of welfare for every farmed animal in the country, and they outline the specific rules for each animal, in line with what is allowed under the Act.


The Animal Law Association is arguing that the permittance of cages in the code is actually illegal under the Act, because of the behavioural restrictions forced onto sows.


"The argument is that there isn't enough scientific basis or justification for allowing farrowing crates, that alternatives are possible, that NAWAC should have looked at those, and the failure to do so meant that they exceeded their powers under the Animal Welfare Act," Rodriguez Ferrere said.


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