Europe’s pig producers should prepare themselves for an eventual ban on surgical castration and tail docking across the continent, according to a leading industry expert.
cSandra Edwards, Professor of Agriculture at the UK’s University of Newcastle, said animal welfare concerns from consumers and retailers meant producers would increase pressure to stop using the practices.
And she said that European policymakers could make moves to force the abolition of surgical castration and force compliance with tail docking rules by as early as 2018.
Speaking at the Herning Pig Congress in Denmark, Edwards said farmers needed to be prepared to change their production practices so they could comply with rules that would inevitably be introduced.
“Consumers are interested in welfare,” she said. “They like natural behaviors and living conditions, and they believe animals shouldn’t experience pain.
“That makes it hard for them to accept that we do things that cause pain for management reasons.”
Alternative castration methods
Edwards said that the European Commission had called on the industry to develop alternative methods to surgical castration by 2018, such as immunological castration and new breeding strategies — an area the industry would see ‘major moves’ in over the next few years.
Similarly the Commission wanted to see producers stop routine tail docking within the next 18 months, and had called on member states to implement action plans to ensure its rules were met.
“As an industry our goal has to be to abolish tail biting and tail docking,” she told delegates. “Society won’t give us a choice in the long-term.”
Edwards said there were more than 100 reasons why pigs tail bite, ranging from genetics and nutrition to health, climate and environment.
A four-year study had also found that three-times more tail biting occurred in slatted systems compared with straw systems.
“Developing early warning systems for biting outbreaks [could be one solution],” she said. “We know there are certain changes in behavior before animals bite, and if we could intervene that could avoid the problem.
“We need to take small steps forward while we learn how to get it right. We have to know that developing skills and spotting problems early on is going to be key.”