Today’s industrial food production means that billions of farm animals suffer in Europe every year and since its inception Eurogroup's aim has been to highlight their plight and to campaign vigorously for legislation. Animals used for food are not just agriculture products but sentient beings. From the point of birth to the slaughterhouse they need to be treated accordingly.
European Pig Castration Campaign
With 152 million pigs and a yearly production of about 23 million ton carcass weight, the EU is the world’s biggest exporter of pig meat and the second biggest producer after China . Council Directive 2008/120/EC, laying down minimum requirements for the welfare of pigs kept for farming purposes in the EU, allows for the surgical castration of male piglets without anaesthesia or analgesia until the 7th day of life. However, not only is the procedure questionable from an ethical and animal welfare perspective, but alternatives to surgical castration are already available and in use in some member states. These options should be encouraged and promoted, so that surgical castration can finally become a thing of the past.
About the issue
Male pigs are castrated for two main reasons: to prevent the risk of boar taint, an unpleasant flavour and smell which can be detected when the meat is cooked, and to minimise sexual aggressive behaviour.
At least until 2010, it was estimated that about 100 million male pigs/year were routinely surgically castrated in the EU every year, in most cases by farmers using neither anaesthesia nor analgesia. This raises major animal welfare concerns, as surgical castration is very painful for the piglets and is associated with a higher risk of infection. Viable alternatives are already available. To eliminate the risk of boar taint, pigs can be slaughtered younger and at a lighter live weight, or they can be vaccinated. Boar taint can also be successfully detected at the slaughter line.
To address these issues, in 2010 the European Commission, with the support of the Belgian presidency of the Council of the European Union, established the “European Declaration on alternatives to surgical castration of pigs”. The Declaration is a voluntary commitment signed by 33 different and important stakeholders of the pork chain (farmers, veterinarians, meat industry, NGOs, governmental bodies, researchers, etc.), and the final aim is to abandon surgical castration by 1 January 2018. As a first step, as of 1 January 2012 all pigs still undergoing surgical castration should have been provided with anaesthesia and/or prolonged analgesia.
What is the current situation
We are now less than 3 years from our 2018 goal and too little has happened. The first milestone of 2012 has been missed, as not all piglets are receiving anaesthesia and/or prolonged analgesia when surgically castrated. This does not bode well for the future. Eurogroup for Animals considers the phasing out of surgical piglet castration as one of its main priorities. Consequently, we will continue to cooperate with other stakeholders and with DG SANTE towards the objectives of the European Declaration. However, we are also very concerned about the current state of play, and we think that the situation calls for stronger actions and a revitalization of the agenda. Together with member organisations in key countries and BOARS2018 we launched a “Task Force” to accelerate and facilitate the process of phasing out surgical pig castration.
We are working hard to drive change, by organizing local events and initiatives where best practices and the latest scientific information can be exchanged among stakeholders, and by bringing the topic of piglet castration to the attention of politicians and decision makers, at the European and member state level. It is now crucial that all stakeholders remain committed to the principles of the Brussels Declaration and that we keep the momentum on this topic to obtain concrete and permanent results for the welfare of pigs.