It’s long past time we banned pig farrowing crates
While the United Kingdom has made great strides in advancing animal welfare – most notably through the recent Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act, the Animal Welfare (Penalty Notices) Act, Glue Traps (Offences) Act and Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill – there remain millions of animals farmed in cages each year.
One of the most concerning cases occurs in the use of pig farrowing crates, where 60 per cent of sows in our national herd are forced to breed in a space so small, they can’t even turn around.
Our report earlier this year shows a typical sow spends almost a quarter (22 per cent) of her adult breeding life in a tiny crate, given sows are crated one week prior to farrowing and sows produce around 2.3 litters per year. The most severe degree of confinement of farmed animals of any system in the UK and European Union, this is unacceptable for a country which prides itself on high farming welfare standards.
We must not force our farmers to choose between profit or welfare for their animals
This is why today, the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF) has launched a new campaign, The Crate Escape, making a fresh case for banning pig farrowing crates.
Indeed, the welfare grounds for ending farrowing crates are clear. Forced to nurse her young through bars, the mother pig is unable to perform any natural and normal social behaviours, such as interacting with her piglets, rooting, and digging. Many endure physical injuries and sores caused lying on the hard slatted floors. It is no surprise then that sows bite and chew the bars, and scrape at the floor in frustration. One farmer from Oxfordshire who, following market trends, introduced farrowing crates told CAWF: “Their characters changed, they were clearly distressed when in the farrowing crates with no option other than to become resigned to their circumstance, it was pitiful.”
Until recently it’s been claimed farrowing crates are necessary to protect piglet mortality. Though we now have fresh evidence that outdoor and zero confinement indoor pens offer equal, and in some cases better, piglet mortality rates than crates. A good example is the PigSAFE (Piglet and Sow Alternative Farrowing Environment), funded by Defra, a zero-confinement system designed to meet the biological and welfare needs of sows, and achieve comparable mortality levels to the farrowing crate. The results in other countries who have already made the transition are clear; recent live-born piglet mortality figures for the UK are 12.2 per cent, while Switzerland’s live-born mortality rate is 11.1 per cent and Norway’s is 12 per cent.
Of course, any transition away from farrowing crates will not be without cost. Until now, British farmers have admirably born the costs for transitioning away from low welfare practices like farrowing crates. Consequently, it is essential the government provides effective financial support for adopting free farrowing systems. We must not force our farmers to choose between profit or welfare for their animals; these should not be mutually exclusive.
One way we can ensure our British farmers are not undercut is through guaranteeing any law change is twinned with a consistent trade policy. Any move towards higher welfare standards must not be undermined by importing the very practices we have prohibited in the UK. Of course, it is important to recognise that control over our imports is now possible since we have left the European Union.
Unless we act soon, the UK runs the risk of falling behind. Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland have all banned farrowing crates, while Germany and Austria have passed legislation to end their use. We can no longer look to pig mortality as a justification for keeping our sows behind bars for months at a time and must not accept temporary crates as a short-term solution. Instead, we must use our newfound Brexit freedom and put an end to the suffering that around 200,000 sows currently endure each year.
Lorraine Platt, co-founder of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.
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