Thursday 17 June 2010
Legislative Council Hansard
PIGGERIES - DRY SOW STALLS
Mr HALL (Western Tiers) - I rise to express my dismay and annoyance at the lack of industry consultation by the Minister for Primary Industries, Mr Bryan Green, in his decision last week in relation to the use of dry sow stalls in piggeries. The minister announced the ban on the routine use of dry sow stalls from 2017 and restrictions on pregnant sows from 2014. This is despite the fact that there is a national approach to animal welfare standards in relation to sow stalls with the national code only proposing restrictions on their use after 2017.
The TFGA believes that this unilateral decision will imperil Tasmania's pork industry. TFGA chief executive, Jan Davis, issued a media release in response to the decision but I will take the opportunity of reading it in full to provide some insight into the seriousness of this decision from an industry perspective. This was issued last week. She says:
'Intentionally or not, the Tasmanian Government's decision today to go it alone in bringing forward a ban on sow stalls, three years ahead of the rest of Australia, would destroy the Tasmanian pork industry's competitiveness, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) said today.
"For three years, Tasmanians pig producers will be at a cost disadvantage with producers in other states ...
"They are going to have to adopt as yet unidentified alternative measures to contain pregnant sows three years ahead of the 2017 deadline that had been agreed under the national Code of Practice. That means an urgent and unexpected cost for Tasmania's pig farmers.
"If the Government proceeds down this path it must compensate them for the loss of income and for the cost of developing these alternative methods.
"It must also ban any pork being imported to Tasmania that does not conform to that new Tasmanian standard in 2014.
"Not to do so, would be inequitable to them, Ms Davis said.
She said that she found it incomprehensible that the Tasmanian Government would act in this unilateral way, given that there was unanimity amongst the states and the Commonwealth, among farming organisations, the CSIRO and animal welfare organisations that reform was needed and that an orderly process towards 2017 as the implementation year had been agreed.
"Industry was not dragged screaming into this position", she said. "We agreed with it, but we thought there was consensus about the process and the timetable - until today."
Ms Davis said the ramifications of today's announcement penetrated far deeper than the pig industry.
"What is really damaging is the message that this sends to Tasmanian industry about accepting the word of the Government. Yet again we have found their word cannot be trusted. They either backflip or go weak at the knees ...
"There was no meaningful consultation with industry over this. The Government has to realise this sends a dreadful message to all of those it seeks to embrace in what is supposed to be a new era of consensus and consultation.
"If this is the way the Tasmanian Government treats pig farmers, how can its ministers be trusted on such vexed issues as forestry if they are going to abandon national agreements and cave in to minority interest groups." '
Miss Davis said the TFGA was firmly of the view that the Tasmanian Animal Welfare Advisory Committee had to be restructured to ensure livestock producers were represented appropriately. To my knowledge, Madam President, there are two producer members on the AWAC, both of whom strongly supported a vote against the recommendation.
As you can see, the TFGA is scathing about this decision but they are not alone. The Examiner on 12 June reported, and I quote:
'Exton pig producer Neil Atkins said his attempts to speak to Primary Industries Minister Bryan Green had failed, until he received a call shortly before the announcement was made.
"This snap decision by Mr Green is the worst decision I've seen in 25 years of being pushed in political directions," Mr Atkins said.'
I hope Mr Atkins would not mind me saying he has always been a strong Labor supporter, but not now. Mr Atkins goes on:
' "Federally, we'd agreed on major changes already to restrict the use of sow stalls to six weeks - to move to no use of stalls will mean very significant management problems and it will reduce the performance of the sows." '
I have also been personally contacted by producers who are absolutely distraught and devastated at this unilateral decision that could destroy their operations and livelihoods and despite what Minister Green said this morning, none of the major producers that I spoke to close to the decision had any contact with Minister Green's office at all. In fact one of his own constituents said she rang Minister Green's office four or five times and just got no response at all. Despite her begging to speak to the minister or somebody else in the office, there was no response.
The brutal reality is that this decision whilst likely to obliterate the Tasmanian pork industry will do nothing for animal welfare. Consumers will instead just purchase pork from the mainland or overseas where these regulations do not apply and the pork is therefore cheaper. This goes to the heart of the reason why there is and needs to be a national approach to this. It begs the question why this Labor-Greens Government would act unilaterally at odds with the national approach to implement a change in Tasmania that could be ultimately futile for animal welfare and that basically could see pork production shift from Tasmania to the mainland.
It also begs the question as to which industry will be next on the chopping block and subject to knee-jerk government regulation without consultation. That is ultimately for political and cosmetic purposes and sacrifices Tasmanian jobs and livelihoods.
This unilateral decision by the Labor-Greens Government will destroy any trust that Tasmanian industry could have had in this Government. It is bad news for our economy, bad news for jobs and bad news for the State.
I watched Minister Green during question time last week when he delivered his verdict in a response to a Dorothy Dixer from Rebecca White and I have to say Minister Green's body language told it all. In the past he was a respected Primary Industries minister but last week he looked very uncomfortable with what he was telling the House. He was trying to justify his decision by going on and on about how he is going to get Tasmanians to eat more pork. Yet in last Saturday's Advocate there was a large advertisement from the animal welfare activists. While congratulating Bryan Green, it was at the same time urging Tasmanians not to eat local pork unless it complied with their ideology. Talk about 'give an inch and take a mile'!
This campaign by animal activists has clearly just targeted Tasmania because it is the smallest jurisdiction and getting a win here will encourage activism in other States.
Just to finish up, Madam President, about three weeks or so ago we saw Greens Cabinet member, Cassy O'Connor, banging on about a permanent ban on duck shooting in Tasmania. We know that the minister is a keen duck shooter and yet that issue has suddenly gone very quiet and so the question is being asked out there in the rural community: has Minister Green done a quiet little deal and fried our State's pig producers in order to take the heat off one of his own pastimes, that is, roasting ducks?
PIGGERIES - DRY SOW STALLS
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, I am wondering if it is appropriate for me to read into Hansard a letter that I received on that subject?
Madam PRESIDENT - Are you speaking on the adjournment?
Mr FINCH - Yes, I am.
This is a letter that I received from pig farmers in my electorate, Alan and Lynette Broomby. Lynette wrote to me and she says:
'Thank you for meeting with us on Friday in relation to the proposed banning of dry sow stalls in Tasmania. We appreciated your frankness and insight into the political process.'
They must have been talking to somebody else!
Mr FINCH -
'As outlined in our meeting dry sow stalls are used to protect sows from bullying especially after mating when they are at their most vulnerable. The reality of removing dry sow stalls from our farm comes at a significant cost not only to build additional barn type housing but ongoing costs in relation to loss of production. After significant research we estimate that the removal of dry sow stalls will reduce our current conception rate from approximately 86% to 76%. This means that we will have to run an additional twenty two sows in our breeding herd to achieve the same number of successful matings as we experience now. Research has also indicated that on average the litter size will reduce by one pig per litter. This will reduce the number of pigs we have available for sale by 11%. This equates to significant increase in costs. Taking all three cost factors into consideration we would need an additional fifty four cents per kilo of pig meat sold to put us on the same financial footing as at present.
The reality of getting this increase from the butchers and the wholesalers we supply is very unlikely. Most butchers and wholesalers we deal with prefer to buy our pig meat based on it being local, consistent, of high quality and not over priced. However there is a price point that when pig meat is cheaper on the mainland they will bring it in to replace or supplement what they buy locally. It is very difficult when you go into the butcher or supermarket to know whether you are buying Tasmanian or mainland pig meat. Changes to the labelling laws in Tasmania might assist in identifying Tasmanian pig meat and an advertising campaign will also be required to educate consumers on buying Tasmanian product along with the development of a Tasmanian brand. However we will never be able to sell our pigs as "free range" and command a premium price as we farm indoors due to the Tasmanian climate.'
I might point out that the other morning it was -8° on their farm and will go to -10°. The letter goes on:
'However not all consumers are driven by the need to eat Tasmanian pork. Many are driven as to what they buy, by price and therefore the banning of dry sow stalls will put us at a significant disadvantage to the mainland where they are not banning dry sow stalls only limiting the length of time they are used. This disadvantage will be felt from the beginning of 2014.
We had recently been successful with an application for funding under the Regional Assistance Program through the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and the Arts. This funding of $50,000 was matched with an investment of $127,750 by Winkleigh Farm' -
which is the Broomby's farm -
'to expand big pig production, which would provide an additional 1.1 additional full time equivalents and replace approximately 58,000 kilograms of pig meat per annum currently being imported from the mainland. Winkleigh Farm would provide ongoing fulltime jobs for 4 staff plus increase milled feed output for Monds & Affleck by 260 tonnes, which in turn would increase the demand of production of wheat and barley on local farms. This increase in output by Winkleigh Farm would also increase the throughput of local abattoirs by 1000 pigs per annum. However at the moment this project has been put on hold due to the Ministers announcement concerning the banning of dry sow stalls. In order to complete this project bank funding was sourced couple this with a loan for our first sow barn, which you saw on your visit, which was built based on the proposed national code of six weeks in dry sow stalls. We would need to source a third loan to build additional sow housing due to the complete banning of dry sow stalls. Given the additional ongoing costs of production associated with the banning of dry sow stalls we would be unable to service our current loans let alone service two new loans. We are very disappointed to have to put this project on hold but have no choice with it being unviable as the situation currently stands.
Our preferred position is to adopt the national code of six weeks in dry sow stalls; however at a minimum, in order to be competitive, we would need to use dry sow stalls for at least 10 days at mating time. There is significant scientific evidence supporting this model. New barn type housing would be required to house the sows for the rest of the time. This would reduce the additional cost from fifty four cents per kilo of pig meat sold to fifteen cents per kilo of pig meat sold. We are not afraid of change and often seek out innovation but at present more research is required to determine what the best housing for pregnant sows is.
If however dry sow stalls were banned by 2017 we would have no choice but to cease pig farming. Simply because it is no longer financially viable. Pig farming is long hours, seven days a week, coupled with many risks but when there is little return there will be a need to look for other work off farm. This would result in the loss of four jobs on farm and have a negative impact on a number of other local businesses. A financial assistance package would be required to put us on the same economic footing that we currently experience if we were to remain in business. I would be happy to assist in the development of an appropriate package for the industry with other key stakeholders.
Presently Tasmania's animal welfare group stomp loudly, is the banning of dry sow stalls just the start? Are farrowing crates next? They don't want pigs farmed indoors full stop. And we believe that they won't stop until every indoor piggery in Tasmania has ceased production. We are an easy target being a minority group of approximately 12 commercial piggeries. It just creates a lot of uncertainty and ongoing stress. I think they have forgotten that farms feed cities and we are all not vegetarians!'
That is the message from the Broomby's of Winkleigh Farm.