Getting to know the pig behind your bacon

Pigs are gregarious, sensory oriented, intelligent creatures. Sows and their piglets will live together in groups, rooting through the ground looking for a varied diet and seeking out curiosities. Male and female pigs use over 20 different ‘vocalisations’ to communicate to each other, including a courting song! Pigs have as many sensory receptors on their noses as we have in our hands, and more taste buds than any other mammal. Their inquisitiveness, intelligence and sensory superiority are the qualities foragers use to help them locate truffles, those extremely valuable fungi that grow deep under oak trees. (Although pigs may be the better hunters, dogs are used more often because pigs love eating truffles so much!) Pigs sleep in jumbled piles to keep warm, make nests for the birth of their piglets, and bath in mud to cool themselves and evade sunburn. Pigs can problem solve as well as dogs, and can also think in a way once only thought possible in humans and apes: they can interpret what another pig is thinking! (see Sherman, B., Sherman, O. and Sharman, K., From Paddocks to Prisons: Pigs in New South Wales- Current Practices, Future Directions, Voiceless, (December 2005), pp. 8-9.)

Out of the 1.3 billion pigs that are farmed and killed each year, only 1.5% of them are farmed in a way that allows for these natural pig behaviours and qualities. 60% of breeding sows and 93% of pigs reared for meat live their lives almost entirely indoors. Many breeding sows are confined to very small crates for an average of 5 weeks before they give birth. The reasons for this confinement demonstrate the horrifying ‘band-aids’ required by a system gone mad: In the wild, sows give birth to around 6 piglets every year. In profit driven piggeries, breeding technology has managed to push this figure up to 35 piglets in one litter. To stop the sows from accidentally squashing their newborns they are confined to crates in which they can’t even turn around. There’s no room for jumbled sleeping in this scenario. Although some countries have banned the use of sow crating altogether, in Australia, the allowable time for a sow’s confinement in one of these stalls, measuring 0.6 x 2.2m, is 16 weeks.

Pigs are such inquisitive creatures that when deprived of stimulus, their boredom can turn to aggression. In Europe now, all piggeries are required to distribute hay on the concrete or slatted floors of piglets’ pens, so they have something to push about for the 24 long weeks of their life. This mere gesture toward a pig’s curious nature is a world away from the stimulus required to keep a pig happy. 80% of piglets kept in piggeries have their tails cut off to stop other piglets biting them, out of sheer boredom, and their teeth clipped. No pain relief is mandatory for these ‘band-aids’ treatments. They have been found to cause piglets intense pain, for up to 15 days. In Australia there are no mandatory requirements for any sort of hay distribution on the stall floors. Most pigs here spend the entirety of their lives on bare concrete. (See Sherman, B., et al, From Paddocks to Prisons, pp. 15-18.)

And if these welfare issues aren’t enough to convince you to eat pork from pigs that have lived happy lives, consider just some of the health issues: While the industry is no longer allowed to use antibiotics as growth promotants, antibiotics are still widely used in piggeries, due to the easy spread of diseases. Through much scientific research, excessive antibiotic use in intensive farming is being linked to antibiotic resistance in humans. In the Netherlands and the US, two leading nations in the field of intensive farming, a new strain of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), unknown before 2003, is being transmitted from pig farms to humans. It is now the most common strain of MRSA in the Netherlands. (See Voss A, et al, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in pig farming. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2005 Dec.)

Not only this, intensive pig farms rely on external feed supplies that are open to pesticide and GM contamination. In December of last year, ALL pork products made in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were recalled due to tests that found pork products containing 200 times the recognized safety levels of dioxins. (Long-term exposure to dioxins has been show to lead to various cancers.) The source was determined to be an animal feed manufacturer.

Supporting ethical animal farming

Here’s the beginning of a list of some places in Brisbane that are making an effort to source their meat well. This list is just a beginning, but let’s all work on making it comprehensive. If you know of any others, please leave a comment with their details below.

One of the best ways we can make organic, free range, small farmed meat more available is simply by asking for it. Ask for it at your local butchers, supermarkets and favourite restaurants. Yes, it can feel quite uncomfortable asking questions like: ‘Where do you source your meat from?’ Or, ‘Is your meat organic, freerange, and locally sourced?’ but I’m sure it feels more uncomfortable for your butcher or restaurant owner to have to say ‘I don’t know’, or, ‘No, it’s not’. The more they have to answer this way, the more they’ll be compelled to make some better decisions themselves, about where they source their meat, based on a growing sense that it’s what their customers want.
Don’t be shy, what you’ll be supporting are farmers that are trying as much as possible to recreate natural living conditions for their animals.

Places where you can get organic, free-range animal products in Brisbane

  • The Meat-ting Place: Steve and Andrew, La Trobe Terrace, Paddington (in the Woolworth’s shopping complex)
  • Allsops: Old Cleveland Rd, Coorparoo (Opposite the Myer Megastore)
  • Northey St Markets, Northey Street, Windsor
  • The New Farm Markets, The Powerhouse, New Farm
  • Black Pearl Epicure, Baxter Street, Fortitude Valley
  • Silverwood Organics, order online. They also attend the Northey Street Markets occasionally
  • According to Helen from this lovely blog, Jason’s Quality Meats on 10 Queens Parade at Brighton sells free range pork and chicken.

When sourcing your meat directly from butchers, farmers or suppliers, you will often be able to reduce the cost by buying in bulk. Organise to share the meat amongst a group of friends.

26 Comments

  1. Al
    Al
    March 2, 2011 at 7:23 am | | Reply

    i feel sad that you’re encouraging confrontational behavior against low-paid working people.

    it’s never difficult to find a polite way to ask the questions:

    “Can you recommend a store which offers XXX ?”

    there’s another downside to your way of doing it: it encourages wrong answers by clerks who actually don’t know what the answer is.

  2. Rubysmumma
    Rubysmumma
    July 8, 2011 at 2:23 am | | Reply

    Angela, this is an issue which is very close to my heart – I want to eat meat that has lived well. For many reasons. Free range chickens definately taste better than those raised in a barn. But mostly, I think that it is my moral responsibility where possible not to contribute to factory farms. I have never bought a carton of cage or barn laid eggs. I read a poem that Pam Ayers wrote about battery hens when I was about 10, and although it was funny, as Pam Ayers is, I never forgot it.

    The hardest thing is actually finding free range meat that comes from ethical farming. It is obvioulsy more expensive, but I am prepared to pay extra for the better quality meat, and knowing that the animal lived as nature intended and was not mistreated or abused.

    The more people who buy these products, the more they will be available and the cheaper they will become.

    Anyone know of where to regularly buy ethical/free range meat in the southern part of Perth? I buy it where ever possible, but it is hard to find.

  3. Angela Murphy
    October 26, 2011 at 12:14 am | | Reply

    Great article.
    We live in Brisbane and buy our lamb in bulk from Silverwood Organics. It is certified organic & grass-fed (free-range). Including delivery to our door we pay about $18 per kilo.

    You can order online http://www.silverwoodorganics.com.au
    They also attend the Northey Street Markets occasionally.

    There is a butcher in the Centro Shopping Centre in Lutwyche (upstairs near Aldi) that stocks lots of different organic, grass-fed meats. I can’t remember their name but they smoke their own bacon and we have recently enjoyed their Triple Smoked Maple Organic Free-range bacon. I have also purchased grass-fed beef from them in bulk when it was on sale and filled up the freezer. The staff there are a very well-informed and a pleasure to purchase from.

  4. Angela Murphy - Travelling With Monkeys

    Hi Angela,

    I just stopped back to tell you that our latest delivery of lamb from Silverwood Organics was delivered an hour or so ago and we got to meet the farmer Andrew King himself. I am so excited because to me this is what it’s all about.

    I think we live in such a special part of the world here in South East Queensland where we have access to a wealth of high-quality locally grown food. I am very grateful.

    In the morning my husband will pick up our raw milk from the markets and then between the milk, our lamb and our Food Connect boxes, I have the privilege of serving up wholesome goodness to my family all week.

    Now I just need to attend one of your interesting-sounding courses to learn to cook :-) . I definitely will when the baby is older. Meanwhile, I will keep checking back on your amazing blog.

    Thank you for all your recipes, tips and information :-)

  5. Angela Murphy - Travelling With Monkeys

    Ha ha! Maybe your baby is asleep, just like mine? Since I left my last comment, half-an-hour-ago, I am still browsing your blog! I have two big boys (6 & 4) and my husband has taken them out on their scooters so I have a moment of true luxury to read blogs :-) . My garden is calling me, especially my peach tree that has dried out and looks so sad and put-upon with her long droopy leaves, so I really shouldn’t be here at the computer but, oh well.

    My baby is 10 months. He is a delight, following me as fast as he can in his fat-thigh baby crawl calling ‘mumma, mumma’. He thinks we are playing hide and seek as he follows me around the house. Every time he finds me around a corner he falls over laughing.

    My children are a joy and reminding myself of that is what pulls me through the hard times. And they will come :-) . I have just been reading about you picking up your baby all the time when he whines. Just keep picking him up. Maybe he has just realised that the world is huge but he can’t reach anything interesting. Maybe he is beginning to find that things at his level are no longer that challenging, it is more fun up high, a better view. And he just wants to be near you. You are his best friend :-) .

  6. Angela Murphy - Travelling With Monkeys

    Oops, one more thing: (I’m sorry to take over your comments.) I just wanted to say that I understand your tiredness. It seems to come from right down deep in your bones, doesn’t it? When you look a toddler in the eyes and watch them run around you can see what happened to all your energy, it has been transformed into another whole person. In six to twelve months you’ll probably start to feel better. Everyone will be sleeping more and you’ll be amazed at the energy you have. Just hang in there :-) .

  7. Angela Murphy - Travelling With Monkeys

    Hi Angela,
    You are so lovely, I’m so glad I found your blog!
    I thought it’d be nice to space out my next comment by a couple of days instead of half-an-hour :-) .
    Yes, we get cleo’s bath milk, however, because this is a public space, I want to make it clear that they only sell me their milk as a beauty product – what my family and I choose to do with it is our responsibility ;-) . This morning it was lovely with frozen berries.

    I have another source for raw milk if you’re interested. It is through Food Connect. (There’s a post on my blog describing how I feel about Food Connect). They have an opportunity available to join a herd share and have your share of the milk delivered with your food box. Because you’d own a share of the herd it’s up to you what you do with your own milk :-) .

    What I’d really love is to be able to buy raw milk by the bucket. I looked into doing it through the herd-share arrangement but haven’t pursued it properly. I bought a cheese kit through one of my favourite online shops – http://www.citychicks.com.au and have been dabbling a bit but I really need HEAPS more milk!

    Do you have a source for milk by the bucket? I mean, other than having my own cow…

  8. Angela Murphy - Travelling With Monkeys

    Oh and getting back to the post above :-) , I have been wondering lately if I should be eating pork at all? Are pigs too intelligent for us to be eating them? We eat ham and bacon occasionally but I have never cooked ‘pork’ from raw because I wasn’t brought up eating it and have never acquired the taste. The more I think about it, the more I feel uncomfortable eating such an intelligent animal. What are your thoughts?

  9. Emma-Kate
    November 8, 2011 at 7:58 pm | | Reply

    Hi Angela,

    I was looking through your blog again as I noticed the article on you in the Courier Mail. Congratulations on getting out there and teaching people essential skills – it really is your forte and will provide so many benefits to city folk.

    Just wanted to gently remind you Angela, that Food Connect is far and away a very different organisation to when you were working with us. Robert runs the Foundation exclusively, and now that I am General Manager, we have sourced some great talent who have taken us to new levels. It’s important to know that Food Connect Sydney and CERES Fair Food are now in our family of enterprises, who are all professional outfits with equally talented folk running them.

    We’d love for you to visit us sometime to check out what we’re up to. Would be great to see you again. xxx and xxx have been in touch with us and are keen to connect again too. Anyway, good luck with all your cooking fun! And I look forward to seeing / speaking with you soon.

    Go well, Emma

  10. Emma-Kate
    November 9, 2011 at 9:26 am | | Reply

    Angela, I do recall him attempting contact with you, but if you could email me your number, I’m sure Robert would love to call you for a chat :)

  11. Angela Murphy - Travelling With Monkeys

    Just putting it out there that I have a source for raw milk in Brisbane that sells by-the-bucket. Obviously it is a big commitment as you need to collect every week but you can choose between a 10ltr or 20ltr bucket. If any one is interested please email me direct to find out more. The milk is obviously sold for cosmetic purposes…

  12. Helen Flitcroft
    October 19, 2012 at 5:49 pm | | Reply

    Jason’s Quality Meats, Queen’s Parade, Brighton sell free range pork and chicken.

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