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EU pig industry above the law?

News Section Icon Published 18/04/2012

Compassion has highlighted the hidden misery of millions of pigs across the European Union and called on the EU Commission to investigate widespread flouting of EU laws designed to protect their welfare.

Compassion - acting together with Eurogroup for Animals, Four Paws, PROVIEH and WSPA - has sent the Commission a dossier of photos from the EU pig industry's own trade media to illustrate how common it is for EU farmers to flout pig welfare laws.

Photos of pigs whose tails have been docked and those kept in barren conditions without adequate enrichment such as straw are commonplace.

250 million pigs are reared each year in the EU. The vast majority are factory farmed in harsh conditions in which there is simply nothing for these lively young creatures to do.

Under EU law pigs must be given straw or some similar material so that they can carry out their natural rooting and investigating behaviours.

When pigs are kept in barren conditions, without material they can root around in, they can resort to tail biting and farmers often dock their tails to counteract this. But routine tail docking is illegal. EU law provides that farmers may only dock pigs' tails if they have first tried to prevent tail biting by improving "inadequate conditions".

The key factor in trying to prevent tail biting is to add enrichment like straw. However, this is rarely done. If the laws on enrichment and tail docking were truly obeyed, the factory farming that dominates the EU pig sector (including some UK farms) would have to disappear and we would see pigs being kept in much improved conditions.

A Familiar story

The photos from EU trade media chime with an 18-month Compassion investigation into pig farming in the EU in 2008, when we visited 74 pig farms in six member states. In the investigation every pig farm we visited in Spain practised routine tail docking and had no or insufficient enrichment. The other countries fared little better. The UK fared the best, with a much higher percentage of British farms supplying their pigs with straw.

Reports from the EU Commission's Food and Veterinary Office confirm the widespread non-compliance with these EU laws, designed to protect the welfare of EU pigs.

Compassion's Chief Policy Advisor, Peter Stevenson, says: "Judging from the industry's own journals and websites we fear that much of the EU pig industry is simply ignoring the rules on pig welfare. It is unacceptable for many in the pig sector to behave as if they are above the law.

"This is worrying enough in itself but with the sow stall ban coming up in 2013 it is especially urgent that the Commission takes action to send a clear message that EU pig farmers must obey the laws designed to protect pigs."

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