MOVING TO ALTERNATIVES TO THE SURGICAL CASTRATION OF PIGS
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. To this day, surgical castration of pigs in the EU can still be lawfully performed without anaesthetics if carried out within the 7th day of life of the piglet.
At least until 2010, it was estimated that about 100 million male pigs were routinely surgically castrated in the EU every year, in most cases by farmers using neither anaesthesia nor analgesia. This is primarily an animal welfare problem, as surgical castration is painful for the piglets; however, it is also a public health issue, as antibiotics are routinely used to minimize the risk of infection, whereas antibiotic use in livestock farming should be reduced.
To address these concerns, 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 stakeholders of the pork chain (farmers, veterinarians, meat industry, NGOs, governmental bodies, researchers, etc.) 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. The European Commission allocated substantial funding for research projects to fulfil the conditions necessary to the transition and has been supporting and monitoring the process by hosting and organising relevant events and meetings, and creating expert platforms.