The latest episode of the hit Danish political drama Borgen (BBC4) focuses on Denmark’s pig industry. A character, Birgitte Nyborg, former Prime Minister and founder of a new political party is shocked when she visits a pig farm.
The conditions shown include farrowing crates: so narrow that the sow cannot even turn round. Sows are confined in these crates from about a week before giving birth until the piglets are weaned at 3-4 weeks of age. These crates are common in most European countries and are used on over half of UK farms.
Birgitte Nyborg also discovers that antibiotics are being used regularly, to ward off the diseases that are inevitable when large numbers of pigs are crammed into overcrowded units. A piglet being tail-docked is shown on 'national TV', sparking outrage amongst the public and indeed within the political parties.
Part of the piglet’s tail is sliced off without any anaesthetic. Over 90% of EU pigs are tail-docked even though routine docking is illegal. In the UK at least 80% of piglets are tail docked. In addition, the programme points out that the drive to ever larger litters is leading to high rates of piglet mortality.
Another character, the Prime Minister's spokesman, concludes “In the last fifty years we have moved from keeping pigs who wallowed in mud and led proper pig lives to keeping pigs in huge industrial plants”. He adds “Animals aren’t just insentient machines but creatures of flesh and blood”. An MP who supports the pig industry and is himself a pig farmer admits in a rash moment that “we produce rubbish”.
Perhaps this programme can help act as a catalyst for the far reaching changes that are needed to move the EU pig industry from the barren lives it inflicts on animals to farming methods that genuinely respond to pigs’ welfare and behavioural needs.