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Stopping piglet castration, for good

Ending piglet castration is a responsibility shared by all members of the pork chain, but according to Peter Stevenson, chief policy advisor for Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), food retailers must do more to promote market acceptance of castration alternatives.

In an op-ed published in Pig International, Stevenson noted that Europe’s voluntary ban on castration is a little more than two years away, but there is still much work to be done. The good news, he said, is that safe and effective castration alternatives already exist, including entire male production and boar taint vaccination. However, he noted that adoption of these alternatives remains relatively low due to fears of limited market acceptance.

Entire male rearing promotes pig welfare, health, integrity and feed efficiency, Stevenson stated, and acceptance will hopefully grow as researchers develop more reliable ways to detect and reduce boar taint. Meanwhile, he said, boar taint vaccine provides another castration alternative that reduces not only boar taint, but also potentially harmful aggression and sexual behavior.

Furthermore, he wrote, vaccination may be better suited to a wider range of markets, including specialty products, because it can be used effectively in pigs grown to heavier weights. Still, despite rigorous testing for safety and efficacy, retailer fears of consumer rejection have limited the use of the vaccine.

According to Stevenson, however, these fears appear to be unfounded: in a UK survey, 74% of pork consumers said animal welfare was important, and 53% said a vaccination to delay puberty in male pigs was acceptable — compared to only 41% who thought it acceptable to castrate with anesthesia and pain relief. Moreover, widespread use of the vaccine has not halted pork consumption in Belgium; Colruyt group has even reported increased sales since it started using the vaccine in 2011.

“Ending castration is a responsibility shared by all members of the pork chain. However, as the link between suppliers and consumers, retailers are in an especially powerful position to influence animal welfare policies on farms,” Stevenson wrote.

“For the good of pigs, for the good of consumers and for the good of the pork industry, we urge retailers to do more to ensure acceptance of meat from entire and vaccinated boars.”

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Stopping piglet castration, for good
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