Photo credits: Andrzej Skowron
The European Commission’s Directorate F (DG SANTE) recently released an audit report on the actions undertaken by the competent authorities of the Netherlands to enforce the Pigs Directive. The audit is part of a 3-year action plan that Directorate F is carrying out in an attempt to stimulate action in member states to reduce the number of pigs that are routinely tail-docked and not provided with appropriate environmental enrichment.
The report of the audit is quite discouraging: almost 100% of commercial pigs in the Netherlands are still routinely tail docked in violation of the provisions of the Pigs Directive. Competent authorities haven’t produced guidance for their inspectors on how to assess risk factors and remedial measures on farm. Even more worrying is the fact that the wording of the Directive has been transposed in Dutch legislation in an ambiguous way, so that several interpretations are possible of what is “suitable material” that allows for proper investigation. The consequence is that the Dutch pig sector considers that providing “toys” for the pigs to play with is in compliance with legislation, whereas this is not the case, as was clarified by a Commission Recommendation and Working Document already in 2016.
The NWVA – official veterinary body in charge of carrying out the checks on farm – does not enforce the ban on routine tail docking because “this would put Dutch farmers at an economic disadvantage compared to other countries”.
Progress in the area of reducing tail docking of pigs is delegated to a voluntary initiative called the “Declaration of Dalfsen”, signed in 2013 by governmental and sector stakeholders, as well as NGOs and scientists. This voluntary declaration does not set a deadline for stopping with routine tail docking, and the Commission report states clearly that no progress has been made since 2013, as almost 100% pigs are still tail docked with only rare exceptions.
Apart from the factsheets and guidance documents produced by the European Commission and now available in several languages, there are no guidelines produced by the Dutch pig sector on how to avoid routine tail docking, and exports of live piglets for fattening abroad also pose a problem, as importing countries still require tail docking (as a reminder, only Sweden and Finland have fully implemented the Pigs Directive, all other EU countries are currently non compliant).
The need for routine tail-docking is often attested by private veterinarians by means of generic certificates, which according to the Commission are not required by law and are often not based on demonstrable evidence. The competent authorities accept these certificates as they find it difficult to argue with a veterinary opinion.
The European Commission also assessed how data on tail lesions obtained from ante- and post-mortem inspections of pigs at the slaughterhouse are used to improve animal welfare. The conclusions were that, although data on tail damage are recorded in slaughterhouses, the competent authority did not monitor post-mortem tail damage data and had not set down thresholds for on farm intervention. Scoring systems for tail damage were not harmonised and there was no guidance to inspectors on how to judge the severity of the lesions.
The Dutch government wants to set a definitive date for a national ban on routine tail docking in May 2019, but farmers would like to delay the announcement of the date to 2020/21. In the meantime, the competent authorities have agreed to address some of the most serious shortcomings identified in the report.
Additionally, a Dutch steering group on reducing tail docking has projects running such as:
– a project to experiment on practical pig farms with reducing tail docking,
– working on a check list for pig farmers to make a risk assessment of their farm,
– working on the issue of tail docking together with similar initiatives in other countries, like Germany, Denmark and Belgium.