The use of farrowing crates on European pig farms should end, according to recommendations made to the European Commission by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
The report by the EFSA, a scientific opinion on the Welfare of Pigs on Farm, instead recommends that material such as straw should be provided to sows around the time of giving birth and lactation to enable nest-building behaviour.
The European Commission sought the input and opinion of the EFSA as part of its evaluation of the welfare legislation regarding pigs kept on EU farms, under the framework of its Farm to Fork Strategy.
The Commission asked the EFSA to give an independent view on the welfare of pigs kept on EU farms for different categories of animals in different husbandry systems including gilts and dry pregnant sows (in their first four weeks of pregnancy) in group housing, sows one week before farrowing in different housing systems, sows and their piglets between farrowing and weaning and weaned pigs while being reared.
The EFSA 315-page report, which the European Commission could now use to inform its own legislation, recommends grouping sows at the time of weaning, avoiding “the welfare consequences of stall housing and the possible consequences of stress during early pregnancy for reproductive performance”.
The EFSA also suggests that “surgical castration without anaesthesia and analgesia should not be performed” due to the “severe consequences” it says it causes for the welfare of piglets. The food safety watchdog suggested castration of male piglets with hormones as an alternative.
The opinion paper also recommends that tail docking should not be used on pigs.
On weaning, the EFSA says that “for animal welfare reasons the current legal minimum weaning age of 28 days should remain and the exception allowing earlier weaning in specific circumstances should be reconsidered”.
It also recommends that “the welfare benefits of weaning ages greater than 28 days should be further investigated”.
The EFSA says its report on pig welfare is the first of a series of opinions on the welfare of farm animals which has been requested by the European Commission as part of the Farm to Fork Strategy.
The food safety authority plans to hold a public event on the scientific opinion on pig welfare on Sept 26 and its full opinion document, shared with the Commission, is available here.