CONDITIONS are set to improve for Australian pigs on the farm and get tougher for intensive pig farmers.In a surprise move, the Tasmanian government late last week banned the use of sow stalls on pig farms by 2017.By 2014 sows must spend no more than six weeks confined in the stalls.The metal stalls are used in intensive pig farming during the sows’ first stage of gestation, about 16 weeks.Producers say they stop pigs attacking each other, and the stalls also allow for pregnancy scans and medication, but animal welfare groups have long claimed the use of stalls is a cruel practice and any aggression comes from overcrowding.Andrew Spencer, who is chief executive of Australian Pork Limited (APL), the producer-owned marketing and regulating body, condemned the Tasmanian decision as being taken in “total isolation with no consultation with the industry”.”This government has completely deserted Tasmania’s pork farmers with no thought to the impact and ramifications on their livelihoods.”Responsible government does not make decisions like this without first mapping out with industry how it will assist producers [to] make these costly changes.”The pork organisation was already revising its industry code of practice. The new code will be discussed at a two-day conference, the Pan Pacific Pork Expo, which begins on the Gold Coast tomorrow.The revised code aims to decrease the length of time for which pregnant sows can be confined in stalls from 16 to six weeks and increase the size of the stalls, enabling the animals to stand, move and lie down comfortably. The new measures would be implemented by 2017.It is rumoured that the APL board had also planned to put forward a proposal at the conference that the sow stalls be banned altogether. Any change would need the approval of the members, 95 per cent of whom are intensive pig farmers.The total value of pork produced in Australia in 2007-08 was estimated by Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics to be $880 million, down about 10 per cent from previous years because of the impact of drought and increased feed costs.Removing sow stalls will put more pressure on intensive pig farmers who are already having difficulty in regional areas finding enough workers.