Ending Pig Pain

After poultry, pigs are the second most popular farmed animal species worldwide.

In 2018, 248 million pigs were slaughtered in the EU, which is the main global exporter of pig meat.

The vast majority of EU pigs are kept under intensive indoor conditions. Industrial husbandry systems largely fail to satisfy even the most basic behavioural requirements of pigs, to the extent that they need to be mutilated to avoid the consequences of abnormal behaviours due to boredom, stress and bad health.

Instead of addressing environmental and managerial shortcomings, the industry still routinely subjects pigs to painful husbandry  procedures such as tail-docking, castration and teeth clipping or grinding, typically without any pain relief. 

Tail docking is the practice of 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 carried out without pain relief on piglets younger than 7 days. Scientific studies have shown that the procedure is painful and can cause the formation of neuromas on the tail stump, potentially leading to chronic pain in the longer term.

In addition, tail docking does not in itself prevent tail biting as a significant proportion of 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, a recent study showed that 77% of pigs’ tails had been docked in the 24 countries involved in the study.

Another unacceptable practice carried out on farmed piglets is the clipping or grinding of the corner teeth. This is done under the guise of protecting the sow and other competing piglets during suckling. However, this practice opens up a host of other issues for piglets, including infection, gum damage, abscess and fractured teeth.

Male piglets are subject to painful surgical castration to avoid the possibility that, once grown up, their meat will emit an unpleasant odour when cooked, known as boar taint. 

Although boar taint only occurs in 3-5% of pigs, and even though the presence of boar taint can be detected at the slaughter line, most countries still surgically castrate 80% or more of male piglets.

In the majority of cases, surgical castration is still carried out without adequate pain relief.

This happens in spite of the availability of painless alternatives, such as vaccination against boar taint or raising entire boars. 

IN 2018,

167 million

PIGS WERE SLAUGHTERED IN THE EU

BOAR TAINT ONLY OCCURS IN ABOUT

2%

OF PIGS

MOST COUNTRIES STILL SURGICALLY CASTRATE AT LEAST

50%

OF MALE PIGLETS 

WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

The general public does not support mutilations in farmed animals, especially if these are carried out without pain relief. Eurogroup for Animals’ 2017-18 campaign ‘End Pig Pain’ collected over 1 million signatures from citizens of the EU and beyond.

With their signatures, these citizens called on the European Commissioner and national agricultural ministers to enforce the ban on routine tail docking and teeth clipping of pigs, phase out painful piglet castration, and provide better rearing conditions for pigs by 2024.

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

Directive 2008/120/EC forbids the routine tail docking and teeth clipping of pigs. Such procedures can only be carried out when there is evidence of harm to other pigs and after farmers have addressed environmental and managerial factors, including stocking densities. 

However, 25 out of 27 Member States still widely disregard these provisions, according to official EC audits. Regrettably, the Directive also still allows surgical castration and tail docking without anaesthetic or pain relief in piglets up to seven days old. This is in contrast to scientific evidence showing that young piglets experience acute and chronic pain as a result. 

Between 2017 and 2019, DG SANTE carried out a project involving the competent authorities of all Member States to stimulate better enforcement of the Pigs Directive and disseminate knowledge and best practice. As a result of this, all relevant stakeholders in the pig production chain can now make use of a wealth of materials and information on the prevention of tail biting in pigs and avoid tail docking. The EC has also funded research on alternatives to surgical castration

While these are good initiatives, better enforcement of the Pig Directive is needed on the one hand, and on the other, EU legislation should incorporate scientific advances and best practises on alternatives to castration.

Eurogroup for Animals calls on the European Commission and the Member States to fully enforce the current pig welfare legislation on the ban on routine tail docking

In addition, we are asking European institutions and the Member States to phase out painful surgical castration in favour of more humane alternatives.

With all but two Member States in long-standing and demonstrable violation of the Pig Directive as regards the ban on routine tail docking and the provision of enrichment materials, we are also calling on the European Commission (DG SANTE) to urgently launch infringement procedures.