The code proposes to either completely ban whelping crates or limit them to 72 hours of use. Photo / Provided
A major New Zealand pig farmer in Whanganui says his farm will have to close if animal welfare proposals are upheld.
But an animal welfare group says New Zealand farmers have long
were able to work under special circumstances and it was time they were brought into compliance with the animal welfare regulations set by the government.
The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) are both considering major changes to the way pigs are kept in this country after the High Court recommended new rules of 2025.
Central to the draft proposal, whose submissions closed on Friday July 8, is the idea of banning or restricting the use of farrowing crates.
The new code also proposes restricting the use of mating stalls, increasing the space allowed for growing and weaned pigs, as well as increasing the weaning age.
These proposals, if they all come to fruition, would crush a pig farming business like Aorere Farms, run by brothers Ross and Grant Skilton.
“In its entirety, we will be closing,” Grant Skilton said.
“It will no longer be economical to produce pigs commercially, at least in the North Island,”
Pig industry group NZPork also said the proposed code could lead to pig farms closing and New Zealanders buying more imported products.
Skilton said the code’s proposal to restrict or ban farrowing crates could lead to worse outcomes for piglet welfare than they currently are.
“Basically, the farrowing crates reduce the crushing of the piglets by the sow – they prevent the piglets from being crushed.
“Essentially, we trade sow freedom for piglet mortality.”
The code proposes to either completely ban whelping crates or limit them to 72 hours of use.
Animal welfare group SAFE is calling for their complete ban.
SAFE chief executive Debra Ashton said farrowing crates are cruel and fail to meet the basic health and behavioral needs of mother pigs.
“Alternative systems that provide greater freedom of behavior for mother pigs are already in use on nearly half of the pig farms in Aotearoa,” Ashton said.
Regarding some of the code’s other proposals, Skilton said his company would not be able to afford the changes it would have to make to comply with the new standards.
“Almost [a] doubling our facilities required… the necessary buildings and equipment.”
Restricting or banning farrowing crates, which are used to keep sows in a confined space during the final months of pregnancy and while piglets are nursing, can be tolerated, Skilton said.
“But there are two other significant changes in the regulations which, in addition to restrictions on whelping crates, would essentially put us out of business.”
These were increased space requirements and a minimum 28 day weaning rule.
“For the best herds in New Zealand…it’s hard to achieve.
“You’re talking about new genetics, whole new inefficient production systems to achieve 28 days in the best of New Zealand’s pig herds.”
The code proposes to increase the space reserved for pigs by half or more than double from the minimum currently allowed.
Skilton said if that country’s standard were to meet the highest current standard for space in the rest of the world, it would increase the minimum by 13%.
This would be much less than the potential doubling of space that has been proposed.
He said increasing the space requirement for the pigs to what is on offer would make the New Zealand pig cost 20% more.
“Well, we would become uncompetitive with international products that can produce at a lower level.”
Buildings housing pigs would also need a two- to three-fold increase in heating input, Skilton said, because there would be fewer animals and more space to heat.
If businesses like his are rendered uncompetitive and have to close, it could affect not just 12 full-time jobs at Aorere Farms, Skilton said, but other jobs downstream at meat processing plants.
SAFE chief executive Debra Ashton said so far there have been situations where farmers have been allowed to work in “exceptional circumstances” that do not comply with animal welfare law.
“Now they’re being called upon to do that,” Ashton said, referring to the welfare code proposals.
“[Of] what has been proposed, I would still like to see some of the rules stretched much further, but the draft welfare code is certainly much stronger than what we have seen in the past.”
Ashton said she was aware of concerns from pig farmers about the increased cost of their products due to new welfare rules.
“But I still don’t think that’s reason enough not to align with the animal welfare code.”
She said she didn’t want to see pork brought into New Zealand from places where pig welfare standards were lower than here.
It was up to the pork industry here to lobby the government to make sure competition was fair, she said.
MPI is expected to review and summarize submissions after Friday’s deadline, then a code will be recommended to Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.
But that should take 12 months, Skilton said, and then the minister and cabinet will have the final say on the code.