SOW gestation stalls were being phased out long before Animals Australia's latest slick television campaign, writes CHRIS McLENNAN
A lie would make no sense unless the truth was more dangerous.
This famous quote cuts through the smoke and mirrors which clouds the latest animal welfare stunt.
Farmers find it hard to be heard in the face of a slick and well-heeled Animals Australia television campaign against sow stalls.
Their expensive and well-produced television commercial went to air last week with one of Australia's most-loved sportsmen, Pat Rafter, as its champion.
It comes down to money, says an increasingly weary Victorian Farmers Federation animal welfare committee chair Chris Nixon.
"They have double the funding of all the state and national funding organisations combined," Mr Nixon said.
"They fight on just one issue and we have a plethora of demands from our members to deal with."
Here's a fact the animal welfare lobby doesn't want people to know:
FARMERS voted two years ago to voluntarily phase out sow gestation stalls by 2017.
There is another uncomfortable truth for both farmers and the welfare lobby:
NOT all sow stalls are being phased out.
How can we guarantee imported pork, particularly smallgoods, is as humanely farmed as it is in Australia?
WE can't. The equivalent of 52,000 pigs a week are imported into Australia and there is no legal necessity on the docks to declare whether mum lived in a crate or not.
Animals Australia has not responded to our questions about the cost and accuracy of its latest campaign, but it has provoked not just outrage among farmers, but jealousy among rival animal welfare groups.
A spokesman for Animal Liberation Victoria said the campaign did not go far enough.
"The campaign perpetuates the common misconception that so called 'free range' farming is cruelty free," the spokesman said.
Animals Australia's mainstream activism and campaign director Lyn White's undoubted popularity is incredibly successful at attracting financial support.
Farmers envy their media savvy, particularly use of social media.
Using Facebook on a Friday afternoon they can summon enough volunteers in Bourke St, Melbourne, the following morning to gather more than 4000 signatures against sow crates in a few hours.
Their influence even saw Coles bring forward an announcement to "phase out sow stalls a year earlier than planned".
A Coles spokesman told The Weekly Times: "We decided to announce our progress at the same time as the Animals Australia campaign because it was an opportunity to talk to customers and other stakeholders about the work we are doing."
The spokesman said Coles did not have any financial links with the group.
"The work we have been doing on sow stall-free pork started well before the Animals Australia campaign came about and is a response to our customers' interest in where and how their food is produced rather than a response to any specific campaign."
Woolworths was also quick to support Animals Australia's campaign saying "98 per cent of our suppliers of fresh pork now operate sow stall-free farms and we expect all our fresh pork will be produced in sow stall-free conditions by mid 2013".
0The big two supermarkets both acknowledged something Animals Australia found inconvenient - farmers had decided as a group two years ago to phase out sow crates and are already well advanced to do so.
There was not as much detail from Coles about its other claim on how it is looking after its suppliers and how they "had helped our farmers meet higher production costs".
A spokesman said "suppliers have been paid more".
Victorian growers said the price rise was hard won and still made it hard for them to make a living.
Interestingly, no one was willing to say so on the record for fear of losing their supermarket contracts.
Despite Animals Australia's commercials featuring a singing sow in a farrowing stall, this is not the target of the campaign at all.
Farrowing stalls are estimated to save a million piglets from being crushed in Australia each year.
In much the same way as a dog breeder's whelping box, the farrowing crate - a sow stall by any other name - is a vital animal husbandry tool.
What is being phased out are the gestation stalls, originally designed to protect pregnant sows from fighting among each other.
"Farrowing crates will still be used by our pork farmers," the Coles spokesman said.
"But there is a key difference in the time a sow spends in a sow stall (about 16 weeks) and the shorter time spent in a farrowing stall which for Coles pigs is just four weeks.
"We would like to move away from farrowing stalls over time, but it is more complex with higher associated welfare risks which need to be taken into account.
"All our free range and outdoor-reared pork does not use farrowing crates."
Farmers said there was little doubt animal activists were uncomfortable with the farrowing crates, but they were equally uncomfortable about campaigning against something which reduces so many pig deaths.
Few people realise about 70 per cent of the bacon consumed in Australia is from Denmark.
Most of the smallgoods hanging in the supermarket delicatessens are from overseas.
Canada, the US and Denmark send almost $10 million worth of pork to Australia each year.
A Pork Corporation spokeswoman said the imported product was coming from countries where the production was heavily subsidised.
All fresh pork is Australian.
Coles said all of its overseas pork suppliers were required to "meet exactly the same standards as our Australian suppliers and so cannot use sow stalls".
Farmers suggested perhaps this is a claim the animal activists could investigate.