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The good guide to: pork

Buying pork raises lots of environmental and ethical questions – which is not something you want to grapple with when you’re just after a ham sandwich. Andy Kenworthy surveys the various labels to help you tell the difference between pork and porkies.

Imported pork

New Zealand imports pork from Canada, the USA, Australia, China, Scandinavia and Denmark, among others. While some of these countries have regulatory systems similar to ours, others may use practices, feeds and additives that are not used here.

Also of concern are current proposals to alter import standards, which would allow fresh pork to be imported into New Zealand without undergoing a treatment to remove the disease Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS), a viral infection deadly to pigs which has reached epidemic proportions in China and the USA.

‘The Good Guide to Pork’ has not included uncertified organic pork, as the only way to check uncertified claims is to visit the farm yourself. It’s also worth bearing in mind that regulations are only as good as their enforcement, so watch the news for any signs that local standards are not being upheld

This little piggie …

According to the New Zealand code of welfare for pigs, prodding in sensitive areas or with electrified prods is not allowed, but tails may be cropped, rings may be inserted through the pigs’ noses, and their teeth may be clipped or ground down before they are five days old.

100% New Zealand Pork, PigCare Accredited

All New Zealand’s pork producers must comply with the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and the associated Animal Welfare (Pigs) Code of Welfare 2010. In addition to this, companies displaying the PigCare Accredited label are New Zealand pork producers who’ve paid for independent auditing to ensure they are meeting these minimum legal requirements.

Pigs must be checked every day for signs of ill health or injury, and must receive timely treatment for health problems or poor conditions. Housing must be lit, dry, draught-free but adequately ventilated and not excessively hot or cold. Housing should also include adequate flood and fire prevention measures, and backups for feeding, watering and ventilation systems to avoid failure in the event of a power cut. Pigs must have separate dunging and eating areas, spacious enough for them to lie down in without interfering unduly with one another. Pigs must not be tethered, left with contaminated bedding or accumulated waste that may pose a threat to their welfare.

SPCA accredited

Pigs must be frequently and considerately handled to assist in reducing fear. They must have unhindered access to food of a consistent quality and quantity every day, and it must not contain pig meat or bone. Feeders and waterers should be checked and cleaned daily. Housing must be easily cleaned and disinfected, kept at temperatures within a set healthy range, and include access to material that is suitable for the pigs to root, paw, mouth and chew.

Surgical castration is not allowed, and transport of pigs from farm to slaughter must not take longer than 18 hours. Pigs must not be given antibiotics (unless prescribed for medical reasons), confined to farrowing crates, removed from their mothers at less than 21 days, or exposed to dogs unless they are familiar with them.

Pigs weighing more than 100kg may have a nose ring fitted, and tails can be cropped only if there is a serious tail biting problem.

The health and diet of each pig should be planned and documented, and a vet should visit the pigs at least once every six months.

BioGro Certified Organic

These pigs receive only certified organic feeds to eat, and not pig meat or growth stimulants. Artificial light is limited to 15 hours a day, with dimming periods between light and dark. They cannot be intensely farmed without access to pasture, have their tails cut, or be given antibiotics, except for medical reasons. The pigs cannot be transported for longer than eight hours under normal circumstances. And it’s strict: certification for the entire property is lost if a single animal falls below the legally accepted health standards.

AsureQuality Certified Organic

These piggies enjoy a diet of 100 percent certified organic food including roughage, fresh or dried fodder, or silage, and are not kept in cages.

A maximum of 14 pigs (or 74 piglets) per hectare are allowed. Surgical castration is allowed, but the use of organophosphates is not. The journey time to slaughter is limited to eight hours.

Certified Biodynamic/Demeter

Pigs can choose to be indoors or out, have access to wallowing areas and eat only from an approved list of organically certified natural ingredients. Females must have a free-range area of at least 1,000m2 per animal and farrowing pens of at least 6m2.

Growth regulators, synthetic materials, intensive feed lots, genetically modified organisms and hormone treatments are prohibited, and the pigs can be given antibiotics only for medical reasons. There is at least one New Zealand farm raising Demeter pigs, but to be fully certified requires an abattoir to also be certified and that has not yet been done.

Hunted pig

Wild pig is organic, eco-friendly, free range, local (and many would say delicious). But others argue that pig hunting would not qualify as humane if done on a commercial scale. Pig hunting usually involves the pig being chased, cornered by dogs and stabbed to kill it and allow bleeding.

Care is needed to prevent bacterial contamination through wounds and incorrect handling, or in rare cases, chemical contamination if the pig has eaten poisoned bait. For more, see the Ministry of Health.

Sow crates

The practice of confining adult female pigs to crates to mate and give birth is intended to reduce pigs’ naturally aggressive behaviour and is being phased out by the end of 2015. The law currently allows their use for no more than a week for mating and for four weeks after giving birth.

Going for growth?

Porcine somatotroprin (PST) and ractopamine hydrochloride are growth stimulants approved for use in New Zealand pork. PST is made using genetically modified bacteria and is injected into pigs over the last few weeks before slaughter. Ractopamine is a chemical salt used in a similar way for similar purposes.

Scientific research backed by the World Health Organization suggests these additives have little or no effect on humans. But concerns remain about the potential effect of residues in meat on human health, especially for people with heart disease. The government has monitored for residues since June 2011; five samples have been tested so far and no residue of ractopamine have been detected.

The New Zealand Pork Industry Board, also known as New Zealand Pork, says its members have decided not to use PST, but there is nothing legally to stop them doing so, and no requirement for pork producers to label meat containing it. Ractopamine, under its brand name Paylean, is also approved. It is understood to be in use in a small number of New Zealand pig farms.

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