No Animal Left Behind: why do farmed pigs need specific laws to protect their welfare?


No Animal Left Behind: why do farmed pigs need specific laws to protect their welfare?

15 May 2023

Did you know over 240 million pigs are farmed in Europe? Trapped in bleak and unhygienic factory farms, they are forced to face a number of awful scenarios. Where sows often spend a large portion of their lives in a tiny cage with not even enough room to turn around, piglets are mutilated, and pigs bred for meat are lowered into gas chambers before being slaughtered. The European Commission has the power to help pigs immensely by creating specific rules for their welfare in the ongoing revision to the animal welfare legislation.

Learn about the issues piglets, sows and grower pigs face on pages 31 - 54 of our No Animal Left Behind report. All sources cited below have come from this report.

Able to understand words, solve problems and play games, pigs are incredibly clever - in fact, they rank within the seven most intelligent animals worldwide. Mother pigs are especially nurturing, and go to great lengths to take care of their young piglets, from building nests to ‘singing’ to them when it’s time for their dinner. These expressive and caring creatures love to be touched, too, and will often cuddle and sleep nose to nose.

Yet pigs are living horrible lives in the EU’s factory farms - even when they are only piglets

From the moment they are born, factory farmed pigs are in line to suffer. Male piglets are castrated to avoid developing ‘boar taint’, a largely cosmetic issue that only affects 0 - 3% of piglets on factory farms - yet despite these small numbers, a 2016 survey found that 18 out of 24 countries castrated over 80% of their pigs. This is completely needless, and causes acute pain to these babies - as does ‘tail docking’, another procedure to which they are subjected, in which their tails are cut off. Though legislation banning the routine use of this procedure has been in force since 1994, audits between 2016 - 2019 found that 95 - 100% of pigs had docked tails in Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Denmark, proving that the legislation is vastly ignored and unenforced.

Their bodies mutilated, these poor piglets can’t even turn to their mothers for comfort.

Millions of sows are wasting away in tiny crates

Sows on factory farms are confined for many weeks at a time to miniscule crates, where even doing the most simple movements, like standing up and sitting down, can result in injuries sustained from banging into the bars they are trapped behind.

Forced to produce up to two litters of 10 - 12 piglets a year, these poor mother pigs do nothing but suffer, with their bodies used as machines - they are not even fed properly, as pregnant sows are given a reduced portion of food to ensure high productivity. The stress together with being starved and confined leads to frustration and aggression. Being kept in such a state causes numerous health issues like mouth sores, reduced muscle and bone strength, and urinary tract infections.

Where a mother pig in the wild would create a comfortable space for her babies and travel far to find nest materials, caged sows on factory farms can do little more than lie on their side. It’s a boring and painful existence.

After struggling their whole lives, grower pigs face a terrifying slaughter

Most of the EU’s grower pigs are raised indoors in dirty, barren pens. Fighting is common as they are crammed so closely together, as well as illnesses - especially respiratory disorders, as a result of the poor air quality and high stress in these unnatural habitats. Fed poor and unhealthy diets aimed to maximize production and not welfare, they frequently suffer from gastrointestinal problems like gastric ulcers, which can affect up to 60% of pigs in intensive farming systems. 

These poor sentient beings are not even slaughtered humanely, with many of them stunned using CO2, a gas that’s extremely painful for pigs. From the moment they are exposed to it - while being lowered into a gas-filled chamber in a crate or gondola - they hurt. High concentrations of CO2 can severely irritate their eyes, noses, throat, and lungs. It can also directly stimulate their brain’s ‘fear response’, meaning in the moments before their death, these pigs are often terrified. Tragically, CO2 stunning is not even always effective in rendering these pigs unconscious, so they are slaughtered awake. It’s an unendurable end.

Learn more about the problems with CO2 stunning and raising sows in cages in our new exposé report.

Europe’s farmed pigs don’t have to live this way

The horrors pigs are exposed to across the EU are completely needless and must be stopped. Higher welfare conditions for farmed animals are what European citizens have come to expect, and it’s what the animals themselves deserve.

In their ongoing revision to the animal welfare legislation, the European Commission must include specific rules for pigs that protect them from unnecessary suffering, ensure they can go outside, support them in creating strong and healthy relationships with their piglets and each other, and allow them to exercise their natural behaviours.

Ending the confinement of sows would be a powerful place for policymakers to start - and we’ve already put together a new report to help make it happen, filled with case studies, scientific evidence, and data from all over Europe.

It’s time to ensure farmed pigs can lead lives worth living, full of enjoyment, satisfaction and comfort - it’s their right as sentient beings. Who’s with us?