Surgical piglet castration is a painful management practice, widespread across Europe despite strong societal opposition. Today’s announcement at the EU Platform for Animal Welfare of the creation of a voluntary subgroup to find more humane alternatives marks a renewed political impetus to streamline available solutions, with support from a wide range of stakeholders. The decision coincides with today’s handover to Commissioner Andriukaitis of over 1 million signatures from concerned citizens who are asking EU and national decision makers to put an end to all pig mutilations.
During the fourth plenary meeting of the European Platform on Animal Welfare, held today in Brussels, Belgium made a strong statement reminding the European Commission that progress on finding alternatives to painful surgical piglet castration has stalled, and stressing that the Platform is the best place to continue the work initiated with the European Declaration on Alternatives to the Surgical Castration of Pigs.
This Declaration (so-called ‘Brussels Declaration’) was signed in 2010 by 33 stakeholders from the whole pork chain (including scientists, veterinarians, and animal welfare NGOs) to eliminate the surgical castration of pigs without pain relief by 2012, and phase out surgical castration completely by 2018. Initiated during the Belgian Presidency of the Council in 2010, and supported at the time by the European Commission, the progress of this Declaration faced a very slow progress, until it came to its end in January 2018, not having reached its goals.
As stressed by Belgium today, it is important to continue exchanging best practices and information among member states and to work towards humane and harmonised solutions. Especially considering that Flanders, the main pig producing region of Belgium, has a governmental agreement in place to ban surgical piglet castration by 2018 reflecting the opinion of 83% of the Flemish population according to a recent IPSOS survey. As is the case for other EU countries, Belgium too is late in delivering concrete change for the 4 million piglets painfully castrated in the country each year.
The proposal to have an own-initiative sub-group within the Platform was warmly welcomed by several member states (among which Denmark, Finland, Austria, and The Netherlands) as well as by animal welfare NGOs, EuroCOOP, the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, and Animal Health Europe. Even if own-initiative sub-groups are not logistically or financially supported by the European Commission, they are extremely important, as Commissioner Andriukaitis stressed today in his introductory speech. He added that although the Commission’s resources are limited, there is recognition that there are several important animal welfare issues that need to be addressed. He welcomed the creation of so many own-initiative sub-groups, saying that “a collective effort, involving all stakeholders, is essential to progress.”
Welcoming the decision of Belgium to continue to lead on the dossier of piglet castration, Reineke Hameleers commented: “At a time in which we are witnessing a complete political stalemate, with countries such as Germany even going back on legislative initiatives to appease the pig farming industry, we are extremely pleased about this development. It is paramount that this issue continues to be discussed within the the EU Animal Welfare Platform, with a wide participation from Member States and relevant stakeholders alike. We will be there to monitor and foster progress”.
The announcement of this future sub-group coincided with today’s handing over of a million signatures to Commissioner Andriukaitis by Reineke Hameleers, Director of Eurogroup for Animals, and MEP Jytte Guteland (S&D, SE), marking the closure of the year-long campaign End Pig Pain to ban pig mutilations. By signing the EU-wide petition EndPigPain, over a million european citizens called on Commissioner Andriukaitis and on their national ministers to introduce a EU-wide ban on surgical piglet castration by 2024, as well as enforcing the widely disregarded ban on routine tail docking.
“Pigs around Europe are victims of painful castration, routine tail docking, tooth clipping and grinding even though much of this has been prohibited within the EU for more than 20 years” said MEP Jytte Guteland at the occasion of the handover of 1 million signatures. She added “ the general public deeply cares about the welfare of pigs, and is very supportive of more concrete initiatives. Politically, we would really like to see infringement proceedings towards Member States that fail to enforce pig welfare legislation.”
Commissioner Andriukaitis reacted by stating that he takes citizens’ concerns on animal welfare very seriously and he further committed to talking about EndPigPain and its 1 million signatures with the agricultural Ministers of all Member States on the occasion of the next AGRI Council.
Eurogroup for Animals and its members will continue to mount pressure as long as is needed to bring painful surgical castration to an end. We trust that this new sub-group in the framework of the EU PAW will allow all supportive stakeholders and industry players to agree on more decisive actions to move away from surgical castration. While this sub-group is a laudable voluntary initiative, European citizens expect Member States to be ambitious and impose alternatives to painful castration when the sector fails on voluntary commitments.
At the same time, we will continue to work tirelessly with our members and with the Commission to see full enforcement of the Pigs Directive.