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One million citizens say EU must stop tolerating pig mutilations as cover-up for broken farming system

Photo credits: Andrzej Skowron

The European pig industry routinely flouts welfare laws and public opinion in pursuit of higher profits while member states continuously turn a blind eye. Eurogroup for Animals and a million citizens urge the European Commission to break this vicious circle.

With the unprecedented 16-month pan-European campaign ‘EndPigPain’, Eurogroup for Animals and its 64 member organisations exposed the squalid living conditions and illegal handling practices faced by pigs throughout Europe [1].  

‘EndPigPain’, now endorsed by more than a million citizens, calls on national agricultural ministers and on the European Commission to stop all pig mutilations and to ensure proper implementation and enforcement of the EU Pigs Directive.

The turnout of this campaign shows that European citizens are increasingly aware of the deplorable conditions in which most pigs are reared across the EU, and are demanding a profound change.

At the very least, change will have to start with enforcement of current European legislation on pig welfare. There are approximately 250 million pigs in the EU, which is one of the top global exporters of pig meat. However, pig meat is largely produced in patent disregard of European laws. We are faced with the quite unprecedented situation whereby, with the exception of Finland and Sweden, EU member states are disregarding minimum legal standards for the protection of pigs, and the European Commission is not undertaking corrective measures.

This roughly translates, in practice, in more than 90% of Europe’s pigs that end up routinely mutilated (tail docked) because their living quarters are so squalid and barren that intact curly tails – which pigs wag or “swish” just like dogs – become the only available stimulus, and are therefore chewed on by other pigs. Hence, they are cut off to prevent problems [2].

So far the approach of the European Commission with regards to the widespread lack of enforcement of the Pig Directive has been soft, counting on an action plan, study visits, exchange of information and best practices, audit reports, a sub-group in the animal welfare platform to further discuss strategies. We think it’s high time for infringement proceedings, and the success of End Pig Pain adds weight to our requests. This crisis is not only about basic welfare of animals but also about the credibility of EU law.

By massively signing “End Pig Pain”, European citizens also sent a strong signal to their national ministers that painful piglet castration is unacceptable. The surgical castration of young piglets without pain relief is still legal in the EU and is carried out on more than 70 million male piglets every year, in spite of abundant scientific evidence that this procedure is extremely painful.

There is now a sense of urgency to move forward and switch to the available humane alternatives. “The well-documented lack of enforcement of the EU Pigs Directive in most member states is a striking example of the inertia of national and EU regulators when strong economic interests are perceived to clash with animal welfare.” says MEP Sirpa Pietikainen, President of the European Parliament Intergroup for the Welfare and Conservation of Animals. She adds, “On surgical castration, currently not covered by this Directive, voluntary commitments have clearly failed. Too little has happened since stakeholders signed the Brussels Declaration in 2010 and committed to phasing out surgical pig castration. Seven years later, those commitments are still little more than good intentions. But there is no excuse for waiting longer: routine painful husbandry procedures must disappear, and pigs must be provided with better care.

What the success of this campaign and the growing interest of the general public for the plight of pigs (and all other farmed animals) should tell us is that it’s time for profound transformation of animal farming. As the science of animal sentience progresses, as the complexity of the emotional lives of animals becomes increasingly difficult to ignore, ethical standards about the way in which we rear animals for food are changing.

Reineke Hameleers, Eurogroup for Animals Director concludes “It is urgent that politicians, decision makers, and farmers heed the demands of civil society and also consider the economic opportunities that a reassessment and advancement in our treatment of farmed animals can offer”.

Painful husbandry procedures such as castration and tail docking – while inherent in today’s pig farming – are completely unnecessary. Technically and economically feasible alternatives to eventually lead to pain free pig farming already exist and must now be mainstreamed.

Notes

[1] Throughout the campaign, investigative reports of animal advocates and EC audit reports across Europe evidenced the terrible living conditions and handling practices experienced by pigs. This is a list of the investigative releases and main press articles covering the issues raised in the campaign:

11/9/2018 new investigation exposes severe abuses on pigs destined for parma ham production

26/3/2018 Six shocking investigations reaffirm systematic cruel and unlawful practices in Parma ham production

9/1/2018 Pig welfare crisis continues: European Declaration on alternatives to painful surgical castration fails to deliver

21/12/2017 ANDA, AVATMA, FAADA: Spanish Agriculture Ministry takes first steps to end pig tail docking

13/9/2017 Europe’s pig sector faces animal welfare crisis

24/8/2017 End Pig Pain photography exhibition at the European Parliament in Strasbourg

4/5/2017 EU citizens act to End Pig Pain

21/3/2017 Pigs forced to live among putrefying pen mates

[2] Throughout the campaign’s duration, the EC’s DG SANTE has released several audit reports evidencing once more the widespread disrespect of the EU legislation on pig welfare and clearly setting down alternatives for addressing these shortcomings. Competent authorities responses were generally unsatisfactory, at best acknowledge their incapacity to address the sector’s disrespect of welfare laws, and at worst inadequately responding  to recommendations made by the EC.

1/10/2018 DG SANTE report shows almost 100% of pigs reared in italy are routinely tail-docked, in disrespect of eu law

10/9/2018 EC audit on tail-docking in germany shows 95% pigs have their tails docked in violation of the eu law

7/5/2018 DG SANTE report finds 98.5% of pigs are routinely tail docked in Spain, the largest pork meat producing country in the eu

16/4/2018 European Commission audit reveals that 98.5% of piglets in Denmark are still routinely tail-docked

12/6/2017 Nearly 100% of pigs still tail-docked in the Netherlands, according to latest European Commission audit

EC expert study visits to Finland, Sweden and Switzerland gathered best practices on how to address the requirements of the Directive on pig welfare.

Contacts:
Sophie De Jonckheere, Communications and Development Manager,  s.dejonckheere@eurogroupforanimals.org
Elena Nalon, Veterinary Adviser Farm Animals  +32 (0)2 740 08 97 e.nalon@eurogroupforanimals.org

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