Better lives for pigs

The EU is the world's second-biggest pork producer after China, and the biggest exporter of pork and pork products. The EU exports about 13% of its total production. Most of the EU's pork exports go to East Asia, particularly China.

The vast majority of pigs in the EU are kept in intensive conditions indoors, which are typically barren, failing to satisfy even their most basic behavioural requirements. For this reason, these inquisitive and intelligent animals are mutilated to avoid the consequences of abnormal behaviours caused by boredom, stress and bad health.

Male piglets undergo painful surgical castration to prevent boar taint, an unpleasant odour in the meat when cooked. Boar taint only occurs in 3-5% of pigs, and the presence of boar taint can be detected at the slaughter line. However, according to recent estimates and based on the 2023 slaughter data, 64.5 to 125 million male piglets are still surgically castrated every year across the EU (31.5-61%). In most cases, surgical castration is carried out without adequate pain relief. Painless alternatives remain far less common: in 2022, entire boars represented 17% of the total, whereas immunocastrated animals were only 1%. 

The clipping or grinding of the corner teeth of young piglets is also still traditionally carried out to prevent injuries to the sow and littermates during the competition for suckling. However, evidence shows that many farmers are capable of rearing piglets with intact teeth. 

Sows can still lawfully be kept in individual crates during various phases of their rearing, which means they spend a significant portion of their lives in cages where they can only lie down, sit and stand up, often developing locomotion problems, shoulder ulcers, joint swellings and lameness. 

The early separation of sows and piglets (21-28 days old) forces the industry to use antimicrobials to limit piglet mortality around the weaning period, which is incompatible with the EU and global goal of reducing antimicrobial resistance and protecting the environment.

piglet tail docking

Tail docking is shortening a pig’s tail to prevent tail biting. Tail biting usually occurs when pigs are bored or stressed due to their poor-quality environment, poor health or lack of stimulation.

The procedure is normally performed without pain relief on piglets younger than seven days. Tail docking alone does not prevent tail biting, as many pigs with docked tails have tail lesions.

While Directive 2008/120/EC on the minimum standards for the protection of pigs (the Pig Directive) forbids routine tail docking in pigs, data from the European Commission shows that only Finland and Sweden respect this provision.

410 million

pigs slaughtered in the EU in 2023


Member States still tolerate routine tail docking 


consequences to Member States for not following the EU’s pig welfare rules (as of 2024) 


According to the outcomes of the latest special Eurobarometer on animal welfare in 2023:

  • Over 90% of Europeans consider that farming and breeding practices should meet basic ethical requirements

  • Nine in ten Europeans believe that farmed animals should have enough space to be able to move around, lie down and stand up, with 89% saying that animals should not be kept in individual cages

89% of Europeans favour a ban on mutilations.


Directive 2008/120/EC lays down the minimum animal welfare standards of pigs kept for farming purposes. 30 years after it first came into force, official evidence shows 25 out of 27 Member States are still in breach of the Directive, and do not face any consequences.

Mutilation is an especially pressing issue in the sector. The European Commission devoted substantial public funding to disseminate best practices on the prevention of tail biting and alternatives to piglet castration.

Similarly, the European Reference Centre on Pig Welfare developed indicator factsheets and a knowledge base to deliver guidance on best practices for improved pig welfare.

Despite these efforts, we still haven’t seen any concrete improvements in how pigs are reared across the EU. 

In its 2022 scientific opinion on the welfare of pigs, the European Food Safety Authority concluded that tail docking “is not necessary if husbandry practices and management are appropriate” and recommended that “tail docking should not be performed.” It identified the following factors as important to prevent tail biting: the provision of enrichment materials such as straw, increased space allowance, and low levels of ammonia.

These are clear and unequivocal conclusions that we hope will be considered when the EU revises its animal welfare legislation.