Why I won't be eating ham this Christmas...

Pigs have a similar intelligence to that of a three-year-old child. I learnt this a couple of days ago and I’ve found it hard to shake ever since.

I don’t know a lot of three year olds, but the ones I do know are smart. Really smart. Not to mention sensitive, caring and cluey.

Australians are big on animal welfare. You only have to look at Australia’s opposition to whaling or the reaction to this year’s Four Corner’s report on live exports to know that.

But according to Animals Australia, many of us are unaware of the cruel conditions faced by factory farmed pigs in Australia. Most of us don’t know that pregnant pigs are kept in tiny metal stalls not much bigger than their bodies for 4 months during their pregnancies. We’re unaware that piglets have their tails chopped off and their teeth clipped – almost always without pain relief.

If everyone did know this – I think they might feel differently about their weekend bacon and eggs.

In the lead up to Christmas, Animals Australia is working hard to let everyone know about cruel conditions faced by pigs raised for food production. They want to put an end to it.

We’ve put this cheat sheet together to help you make informed choices about what you put on your plate this Christmas – and then after. We’re not saying don’t eat ham and pork. Just be aware of the options available. 

Here’s what you might not know about the industry – but probably should before you tuck into lunch this Christmas.

From Animals Australia:

  1. Pigs are denied the legal protection afforded to cats and dogs. Practices commonly inflicted on pigs would be cruelty offences if the victims were family pets.
  2. Piglets have their teeth cut and tails cut off without anesthetic—an excruciating procedure which can provoke vomiting, trembling and leg shaking.
  3. Male piglets are routinely castrated without pain relief.
  4. Laws permit pregnant pigs to be confined for their entire 16 week pregnancy in a metal cage called a ‘sow stall’ which is so small that they are unable to turn around.
  5. ‘Sow stalls’ have been banned on welfare grounds in Britain, Sweden and Switzerland, and are being phased out elsewhere—yet they remain standard practice in most Australian piggeries.

This what Australian Pork says about the welfare of pigs.

Animal welfare is of utmost importance to pig farmers, who have the same concerns you do when it comes to taking care of their pigs.  The livelihood of Australian pig farmers is totally dependent on producing a high quality product. A high quality product requires a healthy pig and excellence in animal care.  Pig farmers understand better than anyone the crucial importance of a high standard of care for each and every animal on their farm.

The Australian pork industry takes animal welfare very seriously.


Fair enough. Well not really… Because there’s also this, which was produced by Animals Australia after they were given access to a Victorian abattoir:

(Just a warning – this video is EXTREMELY graphic and could be distressing for some viewers.)

Within hours of receiving the video, Victorian authorities closed down the abattoir in Gippsland and launched an investigation.

So there you go.

What are the options for Christmas lunch?

You can choose to purchase meat that’s not produced in factory farms. Opt for free range. But just be careful because ‘free range’ is sometimes not as ‘free range’ as it sounds. This info comes from Feather and Bone – a butcher that makes a commitment to understanding where meat comes from and how every part of the cycle from ‘paddock to plate’ directly or indirectly affects them.

Please be aware of the difference between ‘Free Range’ pork and ‘Bred Free Range’ pork.

‘Bred Free Range’ pork comes from farms where the breeding sows live predominantly on pastures but the actual pork sold (what you eat) is from pigs that are taken from the sows, usually at four weeks, and live the remainder of their lives inside shelters, removed from family groups and mixing only with other pigs of the same age.

‘Free Range’ pork comes from farms where all the pigs live their entire lives outside on pasture – breeders and market pigs – in family groups and free to express the full range of instinctive behaviour. This method of raising pigs is much more challenging than raising them inside as the farmer has to maintain sustainable pastures and there are many more variables to manage.

In our opinion, skilfully-raised, true Free Range pork is a superior product and the farmers should be recognised and promoted. Bred Free Range pork should be cheaper than true Free Range Pork.

Animals Australia also have a ‘Pardon a Pig’ initiative, where you can pledge to leave pork off your plate this Christmas. They’ve even provided this very hand recipe page so you can find alternatives to dish up for the family.