Welcome to our new campaign! Pig Aware Ireland is a collaboration between Ethical Farming Ireland and My Lovely Pig Rescue, created to highlight the plight of pigs in Ireland, to lobby government into enforcing legislation and supporting farmers to transition to higher welfare systems. If you would like to support the campaign you can donate here Go Fund Me Pig Aware Ireland
The majority of commercial pigs are reared in intensive conditions that are not only inhumane, but are also in breach of the EU Pig Directive 2008/120 and our own animal welfare laws.
Pigs are routinely given antibiotics to keep them alive until they reach slaughter weight. They are forced to live in a confined environment where they cannot carry out any natural behaviours, where they never get to experience the outdoors and often don’t see daylight.
Sows spend nearly half their lives in a cage too narrow to turn around in. All they can do is stand up and lay down. They cannot perform any instinctive nesting behaviours, they cannot escape their piglets. All they can do is chew the bars of the cage out of frustration and desperation, driven half demented by their cruel captivity.
Piglets are mutilated at just a few days old by having their teeth clipped and their tails docked, both extremely painful procedures carried out with no anaesthetic. This practice is illegal yet almost all pigs in Ireland have docked tails and clipped teeth.
The piglets are removed from their mother at 3 – 4 weeks old, which is much younger than they would naturally wean and this causes all kinds of health and behavioural problems.
Pigs are hard wired to root and forage – their natural habitat is woodland. By law they should be provided with materials to enable them to replicate this behaviour, such as straw or silage, but if they are lucky all they have is a lump of wood on a rope or plastic toy. This does nothing to stimulate these intelligent animals and so leads to increased aggression and fighting, hence the routine docking of the tails.
As if this miserable existence wasn’t bad enough the Minister of Agriculture has just announced a trade deal with China to provide them with breeding pigs. This will involve an 11 hour flight, all the stress of loading and unloading, changes in air pressure and temperature, turbulence and excess noise.
China has very little animal welfare legislation, there is no law against cruelty to animals and no requirement to stun before slaughter.
When African Swine Fever was rampant in China footage came out showing thousands of pigs being buried alive in a futile and despicably cruel attempt to contain the disease. What will happen if there is another outbreak?
Please join us in highlighting the plight of pigs in Ireland and pressuring the Minister to enforce legislation, to provide supports to improve conditions so all pigs have a life worth living and to call a halt to the proposed new live trade with China. Follow us on social media for actions and events. Sign the petition here: https://my.uplift.ie/petitions/enforce-the-ec-pig-directive-2008-120-and-more
What is the issue with modern day pig farming?
Irish pigs are predominantly factory farmed which means they are kept in large sheds with no access to the outdoors or space to move around freely. This is a good economic model which has developed over the past 40 years and there is little incentive to change. The animal welfare impact of this, along with the human impact, is catastrophic and despite laws being put in place the welfare of the pigs and their environment has continued to be put second place to financial gain.
The industry as a whole promotes this factory model and insists this is the only way to commercially farm pigs, contravening all the research demonstrating otherwise, and continuously breaching EU Pig Directive 2008/120 by the routine mutilation of piglets and lack of provision of enrichment materials.
The Directive states that ‘pigs must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of material to enable proper investigation and manipulable activities.’ It also states that ‘Neither tail-docking nor reduction of corner teeth must be carried out routinely but only where there is evidence that injuries to sows’ teats or to other pigs’ ears or tails have occurred.
Before carrying out these procedures, other measures shall be taken to prevent tail-biting and other vices, taking into account environment and stocking densities. For this reason inadequate environmental conditions or management systems must be changed.’ Given that piglets are subjected to mutilations at just a few days old it is very clear that no attempts are made to address inadequate environmental conditions to prevent tail biting and fighting.
99% of pigs in Ireland are still tail docked routinely and their teeth are clipped. There has been no improvement at all since the introduction of the Pig Directive.
Why is this still happening?
The natural habitat of pigs is woodland and they have an inherent need to root, forage and explore their environment. In a bare, barren pen they have nothing to investigate and suffer from chronic stress and boredom. This leads to abnormal behaviours like biting each other causing significant injury and chronic pain, increasing the risk of disease and antibiotic use becomes systemic. Pigs in these environments develop skin lesions, painful lameness and digestive problems. Lung diseases like pneumonia are also common as the pigs are reared on slatted flooring over slurry tanks so they are breathing in high levels of ammonia. If the authorities would enforce the Directive and support farmers to be compliant pigs would have
How can pig farming be improved?
Indoor systems can be greatly improved to provide an environment where pigs can carry out natural behaviours and this would remove the need for tail docking and the over use of antibiotics. Manipulable Materials & Environmental Enrichment: these are needed to root, forage, investigate and chew. Examples of optimal enrichment are straw, silage, hay, and spent mushroom compost. This should be used in conjunction with suboptimal enrichment like hessian rope, a lump of green wood on a chain or plastic toys. Suboptimal materials are not sufficient on their own. These will fulfil the pigs’ innate behavioural needs, it’s what they like and need to do.
Thermal Comfort, Air Quality and Light: pigs have inefficient sweat glands and cannot regulate their own body temperatures very well so rely on us to keep them comfortable. Lights should be kept on during the day, that’s when pigs do all the digging, rooting and playing in straw. It stops them getting bored and frustrated. Let them breathe clear fresh air.
Currently 99% of all Irish pigs live over their own waste contained in slurry pits beneath them. The high levels of ammonia fumes burn your eyes so imagine what it is like for the pigs. Pigs should be on solid flooring with bedding, not bare slats over a slurry tank.
Health & Fitness: if pigs have activities to occupy them and room to run around they will be fit and healthy. We all know that fresh air and exercise is essential for good health and wellbeing yet the majority of pigs are denied this. This is particularly important for sows who have to go through the hard work of labour. Farrowing a litter (giving birth) can take up to 24 hours as sows are so unfit and the muscles don’t work efficiently.
Competition: pigs are social, they like to eat together at meal times, play together, root together, rest together. But if they don’t have the right space or enrichment for these behaviours they get competitive and this leads to aggression and fighting.
Diet: pigs need to be fed an appropriate diet to support their nutritional, developmental and growing needs. Many pigs are not provided with sufficient roughage, such as fibre from hay and straw and some may not be fed enough and are constantly hungry which results in competition for food and fighting. They need a continuous supply of fresh water, which isn’t always available.
Pen Structure and Cleanliness: pigs are clean animals and will choose, when provided with the best environment, to eat, sleep and defecate in separate areas, which they do from birth. Not being able to fulfil these basic innate activities in separate areas causes them to be unclean and leads to depression, frustration, stereotypical behaviours, sham-chewing and fighting. Pens are often overstocked and pigs cannot remove themselves from aggressive, dominant pigs. More space would reduce stress, reduce disease and reduce injury.
Farrowing Crates and Sow Stalls: sows are artificially inseminated and are first put into breeding at around 5 months old, when still growing themselves. They are placed in a sow stall for four weeks during insemination to reduce the risk of the embryo becoming unviable. The sow is then placed in a farrowing crate a few days before the birth due date and will stay there until the piglets are prematurely weaned at 3 weeks old. Both the sow stall and farrowing crate is basically a cage that is too narrow for the sow to do anything other than stand up and lay down and the sow will spend nearly half her life in this environment. This causes sever stress and depression and sows will chew the bars out of desperation.
Farrowing crates are used to reduce the risk of crushing but mortality is still high, largely due to the fact sows have been selectively bred to produce more piglets than they should have to deal with. Bigger litters also means smaller and weaker piglets and they are routinely given antibiotics and zinc oxide to prevent post-weaning diarrhea that can be fatal.
In summary we need to significantly reduce stocking density, provide pens with solid flooring and adequate bedding and enrichment, remove farrowing crates, reduce litter size, provide fresh air and some access to the outside would be optimal. All of these measures to improve the welfare of pigs are achievable and research shows that they work. However, making these changes needs extensive attitude changes, physical structural changes on the farms and financial investment but the industry continues to support the current economic model for intensified, commercial factory farming.
What can we do?
Consumers have the power. If this industry wasn’t supported it would be pushed into change so the answer is very simple. Don’t buy the produce. Currently there is very little high welfare, free range or outdoor reared pork produce available in supermarkets so you will need to try local farmers markets or look online as some farms deliver. Ask your local butcher and your local supermarket.
The Bord Bia label is meaningless with regard to welfare and all produce in supermarkets, petrol stations, takeaways, cafes etc will be from a factory farm unless it states otherwise. We can also lobby government to give supports for change and enforce current legislation. We need to create a demand for higher welfare produce and stop supporting factory farms.
Support Ethical Farming Ireland’s new information awareness campaign to highlight the conditions of production pigs in Ireland, who are hidden out of sight in factories.