Will the EU manage to ban pig castration by 2018?

The surgical castration of male pigs gives rise to a number of welfare issues, in order to tackle this, the ‘European Declaration on alternatives to surgical castration of pigs’ set a final goal to phase out surgical castration by 2018. Published today in the journal Porcine Health Management, a new study reviews the progress of this declaration across 24 countries and looks at the alternatives to surgical castration being used.

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Many male pigs are surgically castrated in Europe, often without any pain relief. While this is allowed by European legislation up to 7 days after birth, this is a painful procedure and hence gives rise to a number of welfare concerns.

The final goal of this Declaration is to phase out the surgical castration of pigs by 2018.

To tackle this, in 2010, on the initiative of the European Commission and the Belgian Presidency, representatives from European farms, the meat industry, retail, as well as scientists and veterinarians – represented by the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) – and animal welfare Non-Governmental Organizations agreed upon the ‘European Declaration on alternatives to surgical castration of pigs’.

The final goal of this Declaration is to phase out the surgical castration of pigs by 2018. But the Declaration also requested that from 1 January 2012, surgical castration of pigs shall only be performed with prolonged analgesia and/or anesthesia.

In September 2015, FVE together with the European Commission started to analyze the situation with respect to the progress seen in the different countries following up the Declaration.

We collected results from 24 countries. These results show that approximately one third (36%) of male pigs are raised as entire male while the large majority (61%) of male pigs are still surgically castrated. Immunocastration is used in 3%.

The majority of surgically castrated male pigs do not receive any pain relief.

The majority of surgically castrated male pigs do not receive any pain relief. Nevertheless, post-operative analgesia (but without anesthesia) is now increasingly used in many countries, probably in part due to the Declaration. The problem of analgesia alone is that the effectiveness of this method as a way to alleviate the pain during male piglet castration is questionable. The use of both anesthesia and analgesia is a common practice in only a limited number of EU countries.

Castration methods male pigs
Castration methods male pigs

Our results show that both deadlines, namely of January 1st 2012, and 2018 are far from being met. Despite this, the Declaration has brought all stakeholders together around this issue and has contributed to an improvement in the number of pigs surgically castrated with some form of pain relief and an increase in pigs raised as entire males.

Both deadlines, namely of January 1st 2012, and 2018 are far from being met.

In order to make further progress, a series of practical and effective analgesia and/or anesthesia protocols should be mutually agreed at a national or EU level as a priority.

The percentage of male pig population immunocastrated is still very low. Notwithstanding, it could prove to be a promising alternative to surgical castration. Immunocastration works by immunizing the pig against the hormones associated with reproductive function, providing a non-invasive and pain-free alternative.

In some countries the production of entire males has been for long used and other countries reported an increase in this practice. Depending of the country, immunocastration and entire male production could be seen as valuable alternatives to surgical castration, although they will most likely never be able to replace surgical castration completely.

Customers in Europe are becoming increasingly critical towards how the animals are raised and produced. Painful management practices such as castration often provoke a strong public concern. Given the current economic context of many countries, it is unlikely that conventional pig farms will be able to follow the European declaration on pig castration unless it becomes mandatory in one way or another.

Intervention strategies should help farmers and veterinary practitioners develop practical, welfare friendly and sustainable methods of keeping farmed animals. Implementing strategies to minimize pain and stress associated with pig castration is in this way connected to the future of the European pig sector.

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Steve Dutch

Nice to see the EU still hasn’t learned from Brexit. They never saw micromanagement they didn’t like.

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