The routine mutilation of pigs

On 15/09/2017, in All posts, by Animal Welfare Intergroup

Following-up on the “End Pig Pain Exhibition” which was held this week in the European Parliament in Strasbourg   the Intergroup has dedicated its September session to the routine mutilation of pigs. Jeppe Kofod (S&D, DK), the Chairman of the Intergroup’s working group on pig welfare stressed in his introductory remarks that the situation for pig welfare remains still severe in a very large number of EU Member States as several requirements of Council Directive 2008/120/EC laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs remain widely ignored by the industry. Not only are most pigs raised in barren conditions without the provision of adequate enrichment materials, but tail docking and tooth clipping are still routine. The European Declaration on alternatives to surgical castration of pigs, a voluntary stakeholder initiative that was launched in 2010 and that was meant to bring an end of surgical piglet castration by 2018 has been unsuccessful, as male piglets are still castrated surgically, mostly without anaesthetics and pain relief.

Dr. Ana Ramirez Vela, Head of Unit F2 “Animals” at the Directorate F of DG SANTE gave a presentation on the Commission’s work programme to reduce tail docking of pigs. The work programme is based on audits, potential exchanges within the EU Animal Welfare platform, and the provision of information and training as well as advice to farmers and national experts.  Dr. Vela made it clear that the Commission would wait for the results of the work programme to be published in July 2019 before envisaging infringement procedures against the member states (currently 26 out of 28) that still do not comply with the legislation.

Will the EU manage to phase out all the surgical castration of pigs by 2018? “- was the title of Prof. Thomas Blaha’s presentation. Prof. Blaha, who is a veterinarian as well as founder and President of the European College of Porcine Health Management, spoke on behalf of the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE). He reported the results of a recent EU-wide study carried out among the members of the FVE on the proportion of piglets that are still surgically castrated in the EU, the methods, and the type of pain relief provided. The results show that in 2015 more than 50% of the male pigs in the EU were still routinely castrated without analgesia or anaesthesia. 40%  percent of the pigs were castrated with analgesia, which is insufficient for effective pain relief, and only 5% with analgesia and anaesthesia. Vaccination against boar taint (GnRH immunisation) still remains marginal, accounting for only 3% of pigs, mainly in Belgium.  These figures are still far from being acceptable from an animal welfare point of view, showing only a minimal progress in comparison to the situation in 2010. So far only 6 member States have set national deadlines to phase out the worst practices.

The presentations were followed by a lively debate. Several MEPs urged the Commission to be stricter with the enforcement of the Pigs Directive, first because such a delay in launching infringement procedures promotes animal suffering, and secondly because it creates a competitive disadvantage for the two compliant member states (Finland and Sweden) that would be unthinkable in any other field of the economy.


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