It’s official! UK pigs do not enjoy very high welfare standards

Posted on the 11th February 2009

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that pig industry adverts, which maintained that British pigs enjoy ‘very high welfare standards’, were misleading.

The British Pig Executive’s (BPEX) adverts must not be used again. In recent months, Animal Aid has investigated seven farms operated by BPEX directors and filmed very different scenes to those portrayed in their adverts.

Among the scenes filmed by Animal Aid were pregnant and nursing sows incarcerated in farrowing crates; dead, sick and dying piglets littering the pens; animals wading through filth or living in utterly barren environments; a lack of bedding; and a lack of environmental enrichment, despite the law stating that this must be provided.

Animal Aid has made an official complaint to Channel 4 over the misleading nature of the television programme, Jamie Saves Our Bacon – a 90-minute show promoting the British pig farming industry. Throughout the show, Jamie Oliver and his guests urged consumers to buy British pigmeat because of the high welfare standards British pigs enjoy. The farming press called the show ‘priceless advertising’ but – Animal Aid contends – it did not represent a true picture of life for pigs on British farms.

Animal Aid’s Head of Campaigns, Kate Fowler says:

‘Neither the advertising images BPEX parade nor the words they use bear any resemblance to the reality of even their own farms, and yet its propaganda – that pigs on British farms enjoy a happy and contented life – appears to be accepted by Jamie Oliver.

‘Our footage shows that welfare standards in the UK are abysmal, with “inconvenient” laws, such as those that compel farmers to provide environmental enrichment for the pigs, being flouted. That leading industry figures allow such cruelty is a national disgrace. But then, the pig industry has a history of opposing parliamentary moves to improve the welfare of British pigs.

‘Jamie should join us on our uninvited visits to pig farms and then he would see first-hand the dreadful conditions that pigs are forced to endure on British farms. When faced with such squalor and suffering, we hope he would then encourage people to stop eating pig products altogether.’

Notes to Editors:

Background Information:

Tail docking:

Although routine tail docking has been banned in the UK since 1994 – and across the whole EU since 2003 – British farmers continue to flout this law. A 2008 European Food Safety Authority report found that 75-80 per cent of British pigs are still tail docked. According to Defra’s Animal Welfare Veterinary Division, this ‘could be construed as a reflection of the inappropriate management systems currently in place in the pig industry’.


According to The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2003, ‘all pigs must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of materials such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such which does not adversely affect the health of the animals’. Pigs reared on slatted floors – a common practice at the farms we visited – are not afforded such materials as, it could be argued, they could clog up the slats and create a build up of faecal matter, thereby adversely affecting the health of the pigs. Rather than change the system, farmers simply deprive the pigs of enrichment. In so doing, they breach the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

In the solid-floor systems, instead of the required forms of enrichment, some farms provide a single metal chain. Such tokenistic ‘enrichment’ is both wholly inadequate and cynical. Defra states that these items can ‘quickly lose their novelty factor. The long-term use of such items is not, therefore, recommended.’

At some farms, no enrichment at all was visible.

Standards across Europe:

While standards for pigs remain extremely poor across most of Europe, Britain’s modest advances in animal welfare have not been made alone, and this country is certainly not in the vanguard. Sweden, for example, banned tethering almost three decades before Britain and, in 1997, Switzerland banned the use of farrowing crates altogether, shaming Britain’s claims that we lead the way.

The tethering of sows is now banned across the entire EU. Sow stalls are banned in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, as well as Britain, and in 2013 they will be illegal across the EU.

In Sweden, all pigs must be provided with straw or other litter material – something that British pigs are largely denied. And pigs on Swedish farms may be held in a farrowing crate for a maximum of one week. In Britain, it is four weeks.

Norway will enforce a ban on the castration of piglets from 2009 – something which, although only rarely carried out in the UK, has not been outlawed here.

In Britain, weaning can take place from three weeks. In Sweden, weaning takes place at 5-6 weeks.

When it comes to pig mortality, ‘Great Britain has performed poorly’ compared with Europe, according to Meryl Ward, a BPEX director who operates two of the farms we visited, in evidence submitted to a Parliamentary select committee in September 2008.

Industry Opposition to Welfare Advances for Pigs in Britain:

The British pig industry consistently makes claims that it has some of the best standards in the world. It fails to mention, however, that it actually opposed legislation that would bring about improvements in welfare. When Sir Richard Body MP introduced the 1991 Pig Husbandry Bill, which called for a ban on tethers and stalls for sows, the South West branch of the National Farmers’ Union called the Bill a ‘Body Blow to Pig Farmers’. The National Pig Breeders’ Association – of which Sir Richard Body was a former member – also opposed it.

Dry sow stalls were used to incarcerate pigs for the whole of their sixteen-and-a-half week pregnancy. They were four-sided crates, so small that the pig could not turn around – just like in the farrowing crate. There was no bedding or materials for rooting or nesting. The tether system was similar but instead of having four sides, it had three and the sow was tethered by a short chain so that she could not move.

When the Bill was being debated, filibustering – time wasting – by MPs representing pig farming constituents meant that the Bill teetered on the brink of failure. The Pig Husbandry Bill passed its second reading but was later withdrawn when the government promised to bring in its own regulations. This meant, however, that the end of tethering and sow stalls in British pig farms took three years longer than if the Pig Husbandry Bill had been passed. And, had it not been for the commitment of Sir Richard Body and other MPs, pig farmers would, perhaps, still be tethering pigs and incarcerating them in sow stalls.

The routine tail docking of pigs on British farms is now banned – another example, one might think, of the strides in animal welfare that the British pig industry has made. Farmers dock tails to prevent other pigs from biting them – often the outcome when young, bored, stressed animals have nothing to stimulate their minds. It involves removing most of the tail with pliers or a hot docking iron, invariably without anaesthetic – a mutilation that is painful both at the time and sometimes for the rest of the pig’s life. But in 1997, when Chris Mullin MP introduced the Welfare of Pigs Bill, which would tighten up loopholes in this law, he was ‘strongly opposed’ by the National Farmers’ Union.

Weaning piglets at a very young age may be beneficial to the industry but is recognised as stressful to piglets when conducted at 3-4 weeks. As well as attempting to crack down on tail docking, the 1997 Welfare of Pigs Bill also sought to stop the early weaning of piglets and suggested a minimum of 6 weeks. The Bill was dropped due to lack of time and it took another five years before the minimum weaning time was raised from 21 days to 28 days – still two weeks short of Mullin’s proposal. And even under The Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2003, piglets may still be weaned from 21 days if they are moved to ‘specialised housing which is emptied and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before the introduction of a new group; and separate from housing where other sows are kept’.

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