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 2010, the ‘European Declaration on alternatives to surgical castration of pigs’ was agreed. The Declaration stipulates that from January 1, 2012, surgical castration of pigs shall only be performed with prolonged analgesia and/or anaesthesia and from 2018 surgical castration of pigs should be phased out altogether.
The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe together with the European Commission carried out an online survey via SurveyMonkey© to investigate the progress made in different European countries. This study provides descriptive information on the practice of piglet castration across 24 European countries. It gives also an overview on published literature regarding the practicability and effectiveness of the alternatives to surgical castration without anaesthesia/analgesia.
Forty usable survey responses from 24 countries were received.
Besides Ireland, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom, who have of history in producing entire males, 18 countries surgically castrate 80% or more of their male pig population.
Overall, in 5% of the male pigs surgically castrated across the 24 European countries surveyed, castration is performed with anaesthesia and analgesia and 41% with analgesia (alone). Meloxicam, ketoprofen and flunixin were the most frequently used drugs for analgesia. Procaine was the most frequent local anaesthetic. The sedative azaperone was frequently mentioned even though it does not have analgesic properties.
pig castration – Google Search
Half of the countries surveyed believed that the method of anaesthesia/analgesia applied is not practicable and effective. However, countries that have experience in using both anaesthesia and post-operative analgesics, such as Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and The Netherlands, found this method practical and effective. The estimated average percentage of immunocastrated pigs in the countries surveyed was 2.7% (median = 0.2%), where Belgium presented the highest estimated percentage of immunocastrated pigs (18%).
The deadlines of January 1, 2012, and of 2018 are far from being met.
The opinions on the animal-welfare-conformity and the practicability of the alternatives to surgical castration without analgesia/anaesthesia and the alternatives to surgical castration are widely dispersed. Although countries using analgesia/anaesthesia routinely found this method practical and effective, only few countries seem to aim at meeting the deadline to phase out surgical castration completely.
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.