Important regulatory measures have been introduced in the Greyhound Racing Act 2017 (‘the Act’) to better regulate greyhound racing in New South Wales (‘NSW’). However, further improvements are required to ensure that the regulation of greyhound racing in NSW remains responsive and permeable to the public’s attitudes and expectations regarding the activities of Greyhound Racing New South Wales (‘GRNSW’).
The following submission outlines a series of recommendations which will help ensure that the activities of GRNSW align with the NSW public’s attitudes and expectations of how greyhound racing is conducted in the State. As such, this submission employs a meta-regulatory approach to outcome-orientated measures.
We also know that these intelligent animals will bite the bars of their cage to express boredom or frustration at their confinement. The pregnant sows develop skin abrasions from the metal bars as the stall is not much larger than their body.
The voluntary phase-out can be seen as the industries response to market-forces. Retailers such as Coles and Woolworths have already responded to this demand.
Coles’ own brand pork products have been sow-stall free since 2013, while Woolworths is committed to sourcing all its fresh pork products from producers who use sow-stalls for less than 10% of the sows’ gestation period.
There are important limitations to the APL’s voluntary phase-out.
First, the phase-out only applies to APL members. Only 38% of pork producers in Australia are APL members (although they account for 94% of pig meat products), so there will still be animals not covered under the voluntary scheme.
Second, as the phase-out is voluntary, APL members who choose not to comply cannot be forced to do so – although they may be engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct if they promote their products as sow-stall free.
Third, the voluntary phase-out will be policed through industry self-regulation. This appears to involve auditing by the Australian Pork Industry Quality Assurance Program, which is owned and managed by APL.
There are limits to the efficacy of industry self-regulation given the tension that can exist between profit maximisation and animal welfare goals.
Fourth, the voluntary phase-out will not mean pigs are free-range or free from confinement. The APL voluntary phase-out provides a qualified definition of “gestation stall free”, which will allow pigs to be confined to mating stalls and farrowing crates for up to 10% of their pregnancy.
Also, the alternate to sow-stalls proposed by APL is “loose housing”, which will not guarantee any access to the outdoors, opportunities for socialising or access to bedding/nesting materials.
The need for a ban
To protect all pregnant pigs from sow-stalls, laws must be passed in each Australian State and Territory. The ACT has already done so and the current NSW bill aims to follow in its footsteps.
Although the ACT never had sow-stalls operating in its territory, the amendment to its Animal Welfare Act will ensure it stays this way.
The NSW bill is closely modelled on the ACT amendment. Both provide for “appropriate accommodation” for all pigs.
Appropriate accommodation means that pigs must be able to turn around, stand up and lie down without difficulty. The floor is to be clean, comfortable and well-drained. The facilities must enable pigs to maintain a comfortable body temperature and have access to an outdoor area.
Unlike the ACT model, the NSW bill does allow pigs to remain wholly indoors provided bedding material and enrichment objects are made available and the pig is able to move about freely.
Another difference is the requirement that pigs be housed in “compatible groups”, being “a group of two or more pigs that can be kept together without undue stress to any of those pigs.” This will help reduce aggression and fighting between pigs.
Although a voluntary phase-out of sow-stalls may improve the lives of some pregnant sows, a law requiring all pork producers to provide “appropriate accommodation” for the pigs in their care is the better option. This will ensure the rule covers all producers and enables direct governmental oversight.
No doubt the bill will have some limitations. However, as the community’s expectations shift, the decision to end the use of sow-stalls should rest with parliament, not industry.