I don't think most Australians have any particularly awareness of the conditions for livestock animals in Australia. We hear occasional stories from overseas and can, of course, read books such as Fast Food Nation or The Omnivore's Dilemma to get even more of an idea. We know that chickens lead an awful life in battery farms, but I imagine many people think "barn laid" and many other opaque terms indicate markedly better welfare for the chickens. Scepticism is, justifiably, growing.
But what of the cattle and pigs? The Guardian (one of very few traditional newspaper to have nurtured an intelligent food section into the digital age) had an article, The price of bacon, on January 6th describing the conditions of pigs in some European pig farms. The blurb for the article summarises the unpleasant content:
Pigs kept on slatted, concrete floors; pregnant sows in cages so small they can't move; piglets castrated without pain relief; tails routinely docked to prevent animals attacking each other. This is the truth behind the European pig industry – and so behind most of the pork we eat.
It piqued my curiosity regarding the situation in Australia. It turns out, for instance, that sow stalls are in use here, and not only is there an RSPCA campaign against their use, but there's also one of those de rigueur marketing propaganda sites, sowstalls.com.au, to explain why Australia should still use them. I love Issue Spin 101 paragraphs like
While several countries have moved to ban sow stalls or restrict their use, all Australians would agree that this country should make its own independent assessment based on sound scientific research, which meets our unique environment, cultural and geographical situation. (Link)
The site is completely silent about its authorship or affiliation, but a whois search reveals the owner as Australian Pork Limited. No surprise.
Now let's just see how The Guardian describes sowstalls:
A sow stall is a narrow metal cage, on a bare concrete and slatted floor, in which pregnant sows spend all three months, three weeks and three days of their gestation. They can move a few inches back and forwards, but not turn around. Lying down and getting up is difficult, too.
I'm not particularly sentimental about animals which we eat, but I do get grumpy when people use weasel words to justify the mistreatment of those animals. I understand the economic imperatives of farming and food production. I know that there must be compromises where vast numbers of humans need food. I don't think the final cents-per-unit should justify this sort of treatment.
I wonder if there are readers in Australia with close-hand knowledge of the treatment of food/farm animals in Australia? Is it generally better than some of the worst aspects of European or USAmerican farming described in books and the media?