This advertisement appeared in the Mail & Guardian on Friday, prompting an immediate retraction and apology.

Johannesburg - A photo of pregnant pigs trapped in a sow crate has placed the alleged ill treatment of pigs on South African commercial farms in the spotlight.

The image was featured in a nameless advertisement in the Mail & Guardian newspaper on Friday. It alleged that Pick n Pay supported the farming method, which it compared to the treatment of Jews in concentration camps.

It read: “The use of sow crates is as inhumane as the concentration camps. Pick n Pay supports this farming method. Please Mr Ackerman help us to stop this abuse.”

A sow crate is a metal enclosure used in commercial pig farming in which a female breeding pig may be kept during pregnancy, and in effect for most of her adult life.

The newspaper immediately retracted the ad and apologised. Editor-in-chief Chris Roper said he never thought there would come a day when he would be ashamed of something that was published in the Mail & Guardian.

“Owing to a lethal confluence of ill luck and human stupidity, this week we published a crude advert that likens the slaughter of pigs to the extermination of Jews in concentration camps.” It was one of those times when an apology seemed ineffectual, so gross was the offence, he said.

“But we do apologise unreservedly. Not only to the Jewish community, who must necessarily be the primary offended party here, but to our readers.”

The paper also apologised to Pick n Pay for any embarrassment caused. “We will be donating the proceeds of this advert to charity, and taking internal measures to tighten controls to make sure such an error is not repeated.”

Pick n Pay’s corporate and strategy executive, David North, said the ad was cynical, grossly offensive and wholly inaccurate. “We are very surprised and deeply concerned that the Mail & Guardian chose to publish it. It is notable that those who originated and funded the advertisement did not have the decency to identify themselves.”

It was wrong to single out Pick n Pay on the challenge of phasing out sow crates, he said. “We do not believe any major retailer in this country is moving faster on this issue than we are. Indeed, we have ourselves initiated a dialogue with the industry and animal welfare organisations to explore the scope for faster change.”

Simon Streicher, the chief executive of the SA Pork Producers’ Organisation, said the industry produced about 190 000 tons of pork a year, of which about 30 000 tons were imported. About 2.6 million pigs were slaughtered annually from 230 commercial farmers.

He said the industry used the gestation crates while the sows were pregnant. Piglets were moved to growing houses after birth. Many animal welfare organisations had objected to the practice and the industry had agreed to phase it out.

Sow crates would be phased out by 2020, Streicher said. “The industry needs time to do this and about 50 percent of farms no longer use crates.” Converting to group housing would cost R2 000 a cell.

“A lot of investment will need to go into this process. We are busy with it and it will be phased out.”

Farmers had agreed to halve the sow crate period from 16 weeks to eight, he added.

Pick n Pay said that as of January 1 last year, any new pig building erected had to make provision for group housing or individual pens for the last eight weeks of gestation.

As of 2020, sows must be housed in individual stalls for a maximum of the first eight weeks of gestation and must not be moved to farrowing accommodation earlier than seven days before due date.

The supermarket chain had also undertaken to expand its free range pork. “Under the free range protocol, pigs are free to roam in dry sow units and the [only] time these sows are subjected to any form of enclosure is during the farrowing phase to prevent injury to their newly born piglets.”

Beauty Without Cruelty spokeswoman Toni Brockhoven said gestation crates nearly immobilised pigs, which had to endure repeated forced impregnation days after weaning, 17 to 21 days after birthing.

While the industry talked about phasing out sow crates, Beauty Without Cruelty had confirmed that as of last week or so, sow crates were still very much in production, she added. - Business Report