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Welfare improvements on the way

1. Spotlight on pig welfare

An ‘International Pig Welfare Conference’ took place in Copenhagen at the end of April and its purpose was to identify future strategies for improving pig welfare standards internationally. The Danish pig industry took the opportunity to report on the progress in delivering the commitments made at the Danish Pig Welfare Summit in March 2014.

The Danish Minister of Food, Agriculture & Fisheries, Dan Jørgensen, hosted the ‘International Pig Welfare Conference’ (IPWC) in Copenhagen on 29th – 30th April. The conference was entitled “Improving Pig Welfare – what are the ways forward?”. The two day event, attended by over 400 delegates, reviewed many of the current pig welfare topics in the industry and reported on a wide range of research projects being undertaken.

The centrepiece of the conference was the Agriculture Ministers from Denmark, Germany, Holland and Sweden signing a ‘Position Paper’ reviewing some of the key welfare issues and calling for further action from the EU Commission. Its main points were as follows:

Reduce the number of tail docked pigs:
By ensuring that existing legislation is followed and docking only takes place if other interventions have been carried out and the need is proven. Approve new guidelines on provision of enrichment materials. Consider increasing existing space allowances. Provide incentives for introduction of non-slatted flooring and adjust requirements for slat openings to allow for greater use of straw.

Reduce the need to resort to surgical castration:
Although a wide range of research is in progress, if it proves impossible to meet the 2018 deadline, then legislation should be introduced requiring the use of anaesthesia if castration takes place.

Group housing systems for all pregnant sows and gilts and for sows and gilts in the service area:
Secure a transition to legislation to ban confinement of sows and gilts post-service (currently a period of four weeks is allowed by EU legislation).

Loose-housing in the farrowing pen:
Need for further research to develop systems with a goal of loose-housing of sows in farrowing pens, taking account of welfare of both sows and piglets.

All the proceedings from the conference may be accessed on the IPWC website 

Minister Dan Jørgensen addressing the IPWC delegates

Progress Report
To coincide with the IPWC, the Danish Pig Research Centre published details of the progress made in implementing the agreements reached at the Pig Welfare Summit in March 2014. Last year’s meeting was also called by the Minister, Dan Jørgensen, and signatories to the agreement included representatives from the Danish pig industry, leading consumer and animal welfare organisations, the veterinary profession and Danish retailers.

The agreement included the setting of a number of goals to ensure continuing improvement in welfare standards on Danish pig farms. Amongst these are the improvement of survival rates of piglets, finding alternatives to the castration of male piglets to avoid the risk of boar taint, reducing the occurrence of stomach ulcers, moving towards the loose-housing of sows throughout the whole production cycle and eliminating tail-docking.

“We are pleased to announce that our industry has already made significant progress in meeting the commitments we made at last year’s ‘Pig Welfare Summit,’” said Erik Larsen, Chairman of the Danish Pig Research Centre.

Erik Larsen, Chairman of the Danish Pig Research Centre 

“We recently launched a new information campaign, called ‘Pattegriseliv’, to help ensure that our farmers implement best practice to enhance piglet survival rates and our pioneering work in developing new systems for ‘freedom farrowing’ has already attracted major interest internationally. Our research to find alternative strategies to limit the risk of ‘boar taint’ continues apace – including feed and breeding trials, as well as investigating new selection protocols on our slaughter lines.

“We have also implemented a number of research projects which we hope will lead to new strategies for addressing the risk of outbreaks of tail-biting among our pigs”.

The final item in May’s Pig Industry Matters includes an interview with Professor Sandra Edwards, one of the keynote speakers at the IPWC.