THE WELFARE OF PIGS IN THE EUROPEAN UNION
Around 240 million pigs are slaughtered each year in the EU. The vast majority are farmed industrially.
There are two main kinds of pigs on farms:
- Breeding sows whose role is to produce piglets
- Fattening pigs that are reared for their meat
Breeding sows – the mother pigs
Most sows in the EU are confined throughout their 16.5 week pregnancy in sow stalls. These metal-barred stalls are so narrow that the sow cannot even turn round. She is kept like this for one pregnancy after another.
Sow stalls have been banned in the EU from 2013. However, even after 2013 farmers will still be able to use these inhumane stalls during the first four weeks of pregnancy. A scientific report by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has concluded that keeping sows in stalls for the first four weeks of pregnancy is damaging to their health and welfare.
Compassion in World Farming believes that the ‘first four weeks’ exception should be removed, i.e. sow stalls should be banned throughout the pregnancy. Sow stalls have already been banned in the UK and Sweden and the bans apply during the whole pregnancy.
In natural conditions, a day or two before giving birth, a sow will build a nest of grass, twigs, leaves and branches. In industrial farms, however, a few days before giving birth, the sow is moved to a farrowing crate. The extreme lack of space in the crate means that she can barely move; indeed there is not even enough room to allow her to lie normally. In the crate the sow cannot fulfill her strong instinct to build a nest. Nor can she mother her piglets properly. The sow is kept in the crate until her piglets are weaned at three to four weeks of age.
Compassion believes that farrowing crates should be phased out by law. Farmers assert that the crate is necessary to prevent the sow from crushing her piglets by lying on them. Recent research, however, shows that well-designed farrowing pens in which the sow has ample space can be just as effective as crates in preventing piglet mortality. Analysis of data from Swiss farms –where farrowing crates have been banned – has found that piglet mortalities in farms using loose farrowing systems are no higher than in farms that use crates.
Most fattening pigs in the EU are kept indoors in conditions of utter deprivation – in overcrowded, barren, often dirty sheds. They are kept on bare concrete or fully slatted floors with no straw or other bedding. Stocking densities are often high. In these conditions pigs are unable to perform key natural behaviours.
Scientific research shows that in natural conditions pigs are highly active, spending 75 per cent of their day rooting, foraging and exploring. Such activities are impossible for factory farmed pigs. The lack of straw or other natural materials prevents the pigs from carrying out their natural behaviours. Bored and frustrated, they turn to the only other ‘thing’ in their bare pens: the tails of other pigs. They begin to chew and then bite those tails.
To prevent tail biting, farmers slice off (dock) part of the piglet’s tail. A 2007 EFSA report found that over 90 per cent of EU piglets are tail docked despite the fact that routine tail docking has been illegal in the EU since 2003.
Scientific research has for many years shown that the correct way to prevent tail biting is not to dock the tails, but to keep the pigs in good conditions. EU law requires pigs to be given straw or some similar materials to enable them to engage in their natural behaviours of rooting, foraging and investigating. However, most EU farmers ignore this law.
Compassion urges the Commission and the Member States to enforce the legislation that requires pigs to be given materials such as straw and prohibits routine tail docking. Some countries – Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Norway and Switzerland – already properly enforce bans on tail docking.
Around 250,000 pigs are castrated each day in the EU, usually without anaesthetic. This causes both acute and prolonged pain.
- Castration has been banned in Norway since 2009
- Castration without anaesthetic was banned in Switzerland from 2009
- Castration is banned by the key UK certification schemes including Red Tractor, RSPCA and Soil Association and is rarely performed in the UK and Ireland
- The majority of male pigs in Spain and Portugal are not castrated
- In the Netherlands, anaesthesia with CO2 has been developed for castration.
Compassion believes that castration should be prohibited across the EU.
HOW PIGS SHOULD BE KEPT
Pigs should be farmed outdoors in well-managed free-range systems. Alternatively, they may be kept indoors in well ventilated barns with straw bedding, ample space and daylight.
Pigs are highly intelligent creatures and need a rich, stimulating environment.
We say yes to:
- Space to move around
- Outdoor access
- Straw to forage, nest and rest indoors
But no to:
- Any mutilations such as castration, tail docking and tooth clipping
- Sow stalls (banned in UK and Swedish pig farming) and farrowing crates
- A dull, barren environment
Take action now