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Danish pig production targets even higher welfare standards

The Danish Agriculture and Food Council has singled out three areas for Danish pig production going forward: more loose-housed sows, even greater care when castrating and DKK 230 million for research. Danish animal welfare standards are more demanding than most other EU countries. “but that does not mean that we can be complacent” says Karen Hækkerup, CEO of Danish Agriculture and Food Council. “Our aim is continual improvement”

DKK 230 million for research
In 2018, Danish pig farmers are set to invest DKK 230 million in research focusing on animal welfare, quality, and sustainable production

Animal welfare and research go hand in hand. The pig industry plans to work with universities and relevant organisations to identify what measures need to be taken going forward,” adds Karen Hækkerup.

The funds will come from the pig farmers themselves and the research will be carried out by SEGES in close collaboration with Aarhus University, Copenhagen University and a number of other leading international institutions and universities.

Castration with care
If entire male pigs are not castrated, there is a risk of an unpleasant odour and taste when the meat is cooked, so-called boar taint. This is why a number of markets across the world demand that male pigs are castrated.

Farmers currently administer pain relief when castrating. Danish pig farmers, however, have gone one step further and have introduced local anaesthetic prior to castration.

″We have been working closely with the Development Centre for Outdoor Livestock Production (Friland) to find a method of anaesthesia that offers an even higher standard of animal welfare when castrating,” says Erik Larsen, Chairman of Danish Agriculture and Food Council, Pig Production. “This means that once again we are exceeding what EU and Danish legislation requires.”

On 1 January 2018, the legislation changed so that pig farmers can now administer local anaesthesia themselves prior to performing castration.
″Over the coming months, we will instruct pig farmers to ensure that all male piglets are anaesthetised prior to castration before the end of 2018,” says Erik Larsen.

More loose-housed sows
Danish sows already spend most of their lives in loose-housing systems. Nevertheless, Danish farmers are now taking the next step, which is loose-housed sows in the farrowing unit.

″We’re currently conducting more research into loose-housing systems for farrowing sows,” says Erik Larsen.

However, this is not without its challenges. When sows move more freely in their farrowing pens, the mortality rate among piglets increases because the sows tend to lie on them and crush them.

It’s a question of taking into account both the welfare of the sow and the survival of the piglet. Therefore, our research is focused on increasing the survival rate of the piglet and providing the sow with the best possible conditions,” says Erik Larsen.

Bringing consumers on board
Measures to increase animal welfare standards often mean increased costs for the farmer. The Danish Agriculture and Food Council believes, therefore, that getting the backing of consumers is crucial.

″With the results from our research projects, we want to improve animal welfare for as many pigs as possible. At the same time, we need to be realistic in terms of consumer demand. We shouldn’t create such expensive production conditions for Danish pig farmers and food companies that consumers opt instead for cheaper meat from countries with lower welfare standards. This will neither benefit the Danes nor the pigs,” says Karen Hækkerup.

“Our positive experience with the heart-based welfare label shows that farmers, in co-operation with consumers, can bring about even higher welfare standards for Danish pigs.”

Read more about animal welfare