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Westpork faces abuse charges, again

G-Online

One of Australia's biggest piggeries - housing over 30,000 pigs - is facing animal abuse charges for a second time.

Happy pigs in mud

Happy free-range pigs in mud.

Credit: Humane Society International

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One of Australia's biggest pork producers, Westpork, is facing over 30 charges of alleged animal cruelty. This is the second time the piggery, based north of Perth, has been charged under the Animal Welfare Act 2002.

Westpork's general manager, Niel Ferguson, is also a board member of Australian Pork Limited, chair on the WA Agriculture Produce Commission (Pork Committee), and a Pork Training WA Committee member.

"What makes the situation so shocking is that this is now the second time Mr. Ferguson has been charged," said Verna Simpron, Director of Humane Society International (HSI).

"Such irresponsible behaviour should not be permitted to represent and guide industry best practice... The fact that any person charged with animal cruelty offences can remain in such a prominent position within the industry is inconceivable," said Simpson.

"Ninety-five per cent of the pork produced in Australia is done so under intensive farming conditions," Simpson told G-Online.

"Intensive farming means that the pigs are kept indoors for the entire lives and never get to experience the outdoors. These conditions put an incredible strain on the pigs as they are not free to exercise and suffer as a result. These conditions are also conducive to disease."

"Sow stalls are tiny pens that confine the sow to a very small area not much bigger than the animal herself, and are a cruel way to house such intelligent, social animals... Farrowing crates are even smaller than the stalls and are used to confine the sow while she is giving birth and during her lactation."

"The Australian pork industry has recently acknowledged that they can no longer try to sell sow stalls to consumers. They are attempting to appease this new informed shopper by promising to end the use of sow stalls and promote the industry as much more animal welfare friendly."

Last year, Coles announced that from 2013 it would not buy from farmers who use sow stalls.

"Westpork operate a deep litter barn system, promoted as an alternative to sow stalls, and their actions [keeping pigs in unacceptable conditions] could jeopardise the effort that is being made to improve the reputation of the industry and the conditions for pigs produced under intensive farming practices."

Westpork will defend themselves next month at the Perth Magistrates Court.

"Considering past and current charges, HSI believes Mr. Ferguson should stand aside till the case concludes," said Simpson.

"The Australian pork industry has been at the centre of the national animal welfare debate thanks to consumer and retailer demand for welfare friendly pork. With such scrutiny on the industry this is no time to play the 'mates' card as this will only hurt the many other producers who are trying hard to meet consumer expectations."

Simpson advises consumers "to choose true free range from producers accredited under the Humane Choice system, or they can opt for Outdoor Bred pork available in major supermarkets. Farmers Markets are also a good source of free range product direct from the farmer and that means the consumer has the opportunity to ask them about their production system."

HSI have also developed a website, Animal Welfare Labels Explained, that compares the different standards behind the labels and stockists.