“If every Australian got to see inside a factory farm, there would soon be no factory farms.” Emma Haswell, Brightside Farm Sanctuary

Emma Haswell of Brightside Farm Sanctuary and Diana Simpson entered the premises of Oliver’s Piggery in Winnaleah, Tasmania on a Saturday night in early 2009. They discovered horrific conditions. Here are some extracts from a report in the Tasmanian Times of 1st October, 2009:

  • The three animals over which the owner was prosecuted were destroyed by a vet soon after police arrived at the property.
  • The sows were extremely emaciated, and unwilling or unable to stand.
  • Two had festering ulcers up to 12 centimetres in diameter, and one of that pair was unable to move because her snout was stuck under the bar of a mesh divider.
  • She could not get to food or water and her wounds were flyblown with adult and juvenile maggots.
  • The court was also told that layers of faeces were deposited in group pig pens. Mr Oliver admitted the pens hadn’t been cleaned for two months.
  • Mr Oliver’s pigs had one visit per year from a vet, based in South Australia.
  • Police found that more than 70 per cent of the 46 sows in farrowing stalls had pressure sores on their sides needing treatment.

Without the involvement of Emma and Diana, would we have known about the horrors within Oliver’s Piggery? Let’s consider some of the facts (which are expanded on below):

  • Just three months before their visit, the piggery was inspected by a quality auditor. According to presenter Liam Bartlett in Channel 9’s60 Minutes” episodeThe Hidden Truth“, the auditor gave the piggery “the all-clear”. He says it was only a clerical error by Mr Oliver that prevented the piggery from being accredited by Australian Pork Ltd (APL) at the time of the evening raid.
  • A shareholder and director of the company operating the piggery was also a director of Australian Pork Ltd.
  • Gary Oliver, had been featured in a brochure for Woolworths supermarkets as one of its “fresh food people”.
  • The RSPCA refused to inspect the premises after being informed of the horrendous conditions.

Here are some extracts from the trial:

  • Defence Lawyer: “What has in fact happened is that an animal activist has entered the farm without any invitation from Mr Oliver or the family and that is a concern.”
  • Magistrate: “Is that how the report was made?”
  • Defence Lawyer: “I understand that is how it was made, Your Honour.”
  • Magistrate: “It might well have turned out to be in the public interest  . . . if that is the cost of intensive farming, that animals will be neglected and get to the sort of situation that these animals were in, then I would have thought that the community would expect that intensive farming would not be a viable option in our society.”

Gary Oliver pleaded guilty to animal cruelty. He was fined $2,500 and his company $10,000.

At the time the video was recorded, Mr Oliver was appearing in brochures as one of Woolworths “fresh food people”. The business had been supplying Woolworths for ten years, and at the time of the video was supplying 20% of the fresh pork sold in their Tasmanian supermarkets.

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So who is looking out for the pigs? Let’s consider the roles of the RSPCA and APL.

RSPCA

The RSPCA’s hands are tied to a large extent by the fact that animal food production is exempt from cruelty laws in relation to many routine practices. In respect of pigs, those practices include mutilations, without pain relief, that are illegal in respect of domestic pets. Here are some examples of what’s permitted:

  • cutting off the tail
  • cutting large pieces out of the ears
  • clipping teeth almost to the gum line
  • castration
  • lifelong confinement indoors

However, the poor regulatory approach to pigs and other food-production animals would not seem to explain why the RSPCA refused to inspect Oliver’s Piggery when approached by Emma with evidence of cruelty beyond what was permitted at law. Here’s an extract from ABC TV’s Stateline program of 8th May, 2009:

“The chief executive of the RSPCA, Greg Tredinnick, refused to do an interview. Stateline asked Mr Tredinnick if he had said to Ms Haswell that they didn’t really operate on weekends, and he answered, ‘Yes, something along those lines . . . We don’t run a 24-hour a day service.’”

When the RSPCA refused to become involved, Emma approached the police. They inspected the premises and laid charges.

Although seemingly unrelated to the Oliver’s Piggery matter, is it appropriate that the RSPCA receives royalties equal to 2% of sales from food producers in exchange for its “Paw of Approval” accreditation?

This is what Animal Liberation Victoria (ALV) says on its “RSPCA Watchdog” page:

“The RSPCA is not there for ‘all creatures great and small’ when they enter into financial business arrangements with the very industry that breeds, confines, mutilates and brutally kills animals. The RSPCA’s ‘Paw of Approval’ scheme is an absolute betrayal to the defenceless animals in dire need of their help. The animals are suffering while the public (who trust the RSPCA to help and save animals) is deceived.”

On 9th January, 2009, The Age newspaper reported, “Free-range farmers are urging the consumer watchdog to investigate the RSPCA’s standards for pork products sold in supermarkets, warning the RSPCA logo dupes consumers into thinking they are buying free-range.”

Much good work of the RSPCA and its personnel may be offset to some extent by the issues referred to by ALV and The Age. It may be unwise for the RSPCA to enter into commercial arrangements with a business sector in which cruel practices are inherent and widespread.

Australian Pork Ltd

Australian Pork Ltd is an industry body owned by pig producers. Under a Federal Act of Parliament, it is the declared national industry service provider for the industry. It administers the quality accreditation scheme relating to food safety, biosecurity and animal welfare.

Producers who are in the industry to earn profits own the body that is responsible for monitoring their operations in terms of product quality and animal welfare.

Here’s a comment from presenter Liam Bartlett of “60 Minutes”:

“It turns out that a shareholder and director of the company operating that filthy piggery is Dr Ian Parish, who also sits on the board running the pork industry.”

Here are some further comments from 60 Minutes in relation to APL and Woolworths: “Michael Batyski, Woolworths Fresh Food Manager, says he relied on standards, administered by Australian Pork Limited, that are supposed to certify producers and maintain quality. Woolies says the piggery was inspected and recommended for re-accreditation just three months before Emma’s incriminating video.”

APL seems to believe that the un-edited version of the 60 Minutes interview presents them in a better light than the version that appeared on the program. That’s debatable, but you can make up your own mind by viewing it here (in eight parts of between six and nine minutes each).

Conclusion

A very unfortunate aspect of the Oliver’s Piggery case is that it has not been an isolated incident. Subsequent cases will be covered in future blog posts.

Animals are in no position to stand up for themselves. The best way to prevent acts of cruelty such as those that occurred in this instance is to avoid consuming animal products.

What are your thoughts? I’d welcome your comments below.

Image: Slice of Ham © Johnfoto | Dreamstime.com

Blog Author: Paul Mahony (Also on Twitter & Slideshare)