During the Intergroup of Thursday 10 March, MEPs called on the European Commission to step up efforts to protect pig welfare. Currently the majority of Member States are not in compliance with the Pigs Directive and 83 million piglets a year are still being surgically castrated without pain relief. Today’s meeting saw the presentation of the long awaited COMMISSION RECOMMENDATION (EU) 2016/336 of 8 March 2016 on the application of Council Directive 2008/120/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs as regards measures to reduce the need for tail-docking. Its is aim to ensure full compliance from Member States with the current provisions concerning the ban on routine tail docking of pigs and the compulsory provision of environmental enrichment. Pig welfare provides the industry with the means to invest in a more sustainable and higher welfare sector in times of intense economic pressure.

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The Commission Recommendation was presented by Marco Valletta, member of the Cabinet of Commissioner Andriukaitis. The Commission reminds Member States of their obligation to take account of available science-based best practices when applying the Pigs Directive. A staff working document illustrating these best practices has also been published, to provide clear and understandable guidance for competent authorities and farmers on how to prevent tail biting and to provide appropriate enrichment materials to pigs. Member States have the responsibility to establish criteria for compliance with the provisions of the Pig Directive. Farmers will have to carry out a risk assessment based on animal- and resource-based parameters, and take measures to mitigate the risk of tail biting. The Recommendation specifies that enrichment materials should be edible (preferably with nutritional value) and chewable, and they should allow for proper investigation and manipulation by pigs. These materials should also be given in sufficient quantity, be clean and hygienic, and capable of maintaining interest. Marco Valletta stressed: “Member States should be maximally involved in disseminating the Recommendation as it is a tool to make sure that in the next months the level of implementation of the prohibition to tail dock will increase substantially. The Commission Recommendation is easy to read and to apply, making the argument that legislation is difficult to interpret obsolete. Commission will launch a series of study visits of experts of MS to increase exchange of best practices among Member States. Commission will monitor implementation of pig welfare legislation from now on in 6-8 months and analyse next steps.”


Roberto Bennati, Vice-President of LAV (Lega Anti Vivisezione), went on to present the results of an undercover investigation carried out in Lombardy, a region with a high density of pig farms that supply the two main consortia of high-quality traditional PDO cured hams. The footage showed piglets being castrated by stockpersons with a scalpel and with bare hands, without any kind of pain relief. Although surgical castration without pain relief is allowed in the EU within the first week of life of the piglets, there are animal welfare friendlier alternatives, such as vaccination against boar taint, which can avoid this cruel practice, even in heavy pigs. The footage also showed piglets being also routinely tail-docked, as they are raised in overcrowded and completely barren pens. In the fattening sector, several pigs suffered from untreated lesions, eye discharges and respiratory problems. All the filmed farms are operating in breach of the European legislation concerning the protection of pigs, as environmental enrichment is not provided and therefore tail docking cannot be justified. Given the high added value of Italian PDO cured hams, which cost 20-40 €/kg to the final consumer, the consortia should take on the responsibility to implement higher welfare standards. But we should go much further than that, as Roberto Bennati stressed: “Europe has recognized animals as sentient beings in the Lisbon Treaty. Now it has to consistently pursue this principle of the Treaty by putting an end to surgical castration and to all other mutilations of pigs. The implementation of the European Declaration Brussels on Alternatives to Surgical Castration of Pigs has to be a priority for governments, for national and EU institutions as well as for all stakeholders involved.” 


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