Reply from John Key's Office

Thank you for your correspondence concerning the treatment of intensively farmed pigs and the footage screened on the ‘Sunday’ programme.

The conditions depicted in the footage were highly disturbing and unacceptable. The Minister of Agriculture has made it clear to his officials that animal welfare is an absolute priority of this Government and that we would not accept cruelty to animals under any circumstances. 

The pig farm at the centre of the ‘Sunday’ story has been identified by MAF, and animal welfare investigators have carried out a full inspection of the farm. 

If the farm is found to be in breach of the Animal Welfare Act then MAF has the power to prosecute the responsible parties. 

Individual housing systems were created to help manage the health and welfare of the animals, in addition to increasing productivity. The purpose of individually housing pregnant sows in stalls is to prevent aggression between them, which can lead to the loss of their piglets. Farrowing crates are used to protect the piglets, once they are born. 

The impact of these systems (principally in restricting animals’ ability to perform their natural behaviours) is now also widely recognised. 

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 (the Act) is the principal legislation on the care and welfare of animals in New Zealand. There is also an Animal Welfare (Pigs) Code of Welfare 2005 (the code), developed by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) and issued by the previous Government under the Act in December 2004. NAWAC is an independent expert advisory panel whose membership includes SPCA and Maori representatives, veterinarians, and animal welfare experts. 

The code expands on the Act’s general requirements by setting minimum standards and recommending best practices in relation for the care and management of pigs. 

When developing the code NAWAC considered all of the then available evidence for and against various production methods and housing systems, as well as the public submissions received. NAWAC agreed that the long term use of sow stalls and the use of farrowing crates can restrict the animals’ ability to perform natural behaviours and was far from ideal. 

However, it considered that the alternatives available at the time did not guarantee a better overall outcome for their welfare. For this reason, NAWAC did not recommend a prohibition on these systems in the 2005 code. It did however recommend that a number of measures be included to improve the welfare of pigs under existing management systems. 

NAWAC will review the code of welfare for pigs this year and preliminary work as part of this review has begun. The Minister has instructed NAWAC to treat this review as an absolute priority due to the high level of public concern about this issue. 

As such he would expect to issue a new code of welfare for pigs by the end of the year. 

NAWAC will ensure that it is fully aware of the latest research and developments from New Zealand and overseas, especially in the area of animal housing. There will be an opportunity for the public to make submissions on any proposed changes to the code. I urge all concerned New Zealanders to take this opportunity and make their views known to NAWAC. 

If you wish to be notified when the draft revised code is released for public consultation, please send an email to MAF at animalwelfare@maf.govt.nz with your request. 

It is important that animal welfare policy is developed reflecting good practice, scientific knowledge, public expectations and ethical treatment of animals. The NAWAC process takes these factors into account, and I am confident will deliver a revised code that meets the high expectations of the Government and the New Zealand public. 

Thank you again for expressing your concerns. 

Hon John Key

Prime Minister

MP for Helensville

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