In this section
Pigs are highly intelligent and sociable animals. In the UK, there are currently around ten million pigs farmed every year.
Some key animal welfare concerns
1. Farrowing crates
Around 60 per cent of female pigs (sows) are kept in farrowing crates for up to five weeks, around the time they give birth (known as ‘farrowing’ in pigs). While farrowing crates may help prevent the sows from lying on their piglets, they also severely restrict their movement, stopping them from being able to turn around or carry out natural nesting behaviour. This can cause the animals significant stress and frustration.
What the RSPCA standards say...
The RSPCA standards strictly prohibit the use of farrowing crates. Instead, they require farrowing sows to be provided with a warm, comfortable environment with plenty of straw to help cushion and protect their piglets, whilst also allowing greater freedom of movement and the ability to express natural nesting behaviours.
2. Barren environments (slats)
Many pigs are kept in crowded conditions, on bare slatted (like wooden grates) or concrete floors. As well as being uncomfortable these conditions can increase the risk of foot and leg problems, including lameness. Slatted floors also limit how much straw or other materials can be given, as they fall through the gaps. This reduces the pigs’ opportunity to carry out natural and stimulating ‘rooting’ behaviours. This can cause boredom and frustration which in turn may lead to other problem behaviours like biting other pigs’ tails, which can cause serious injury and discomfort.
What the RSPCA standards say…
The RSPCA standards do not allow pigs to be kept on bare slatted or concrete floors. RSPCA Assured pigs must be provided with plenty of space, comfortable bedding and materials to root in and manipulate, to ensure they are comfortable and able to carry out natural rooting behaviours. This can help reduce unwanted behaviours like tail biting. They must also be provided with a dry, warm and comfortable shelter when living outside as well as facilities to minimise the risk of sunburn, which could be something like mud wallows.
Pigs may be subject to a number of mutilations, including tail docking and teeth clipping of piglets and nose ringing of outdoor sows. These are undertaken with the aim of helping to prevent potentially more harmful welfare issues. For example, piglets are tail docked to try to reduce the harm and incidence of tail biting. However, when tail biting is a problem, reducing the risk through other means, such as improving the pigs’ environment and increasing space, should always be undertaken first, with tail docking only ever being used as a last resort.
What the RSPCA standards say...
The RSPCA standards never allow the routine use of mutilations. In some cases, the RSPCA may grant permission to allow pigs to be tail docked, have their teeth clipped or fitted with a nose ring where a vet has provided evidence that the procedure is needed to overcome a serious welfare issue when other approaches, such as improving the pigs’ environment, have already been tried and failed. In these cases, it is only permitted when carried out by a properly trained individual with the correct equipment.
The RSPCA continues to seek ways of avoiding the need for mutilations, with the ultimate aim of moving away from allowing them at all in the future.
Understand your labels
Various labelling terms are used voluntarily on pork products to describe how the animals were produced, but they may not always be easy to understand. Below are some of the most commonly used labels. Descriptions of what they actually mean can be on our pig rearing systems and pork labels page.
Be aware: free-range alone is not a guarantee of good welfare any more than indoor is a guarantee of bad welfare. The RSPCA believes that both indoor and outdoor farms can have positives and negatives when it comes to ensuring good animal welfare. For example, free-range farms are subject to challenging weather conditions (now more than ever), whereas indoor offers a controlled environment. In contrast, free-range pigs have the freedom to roam around in an interesting environment, whereas indoor pigs may be kept in crowded, uninteresting conditions. An important factor in safeguarding farm animal welfare is overall care and management, so the RSPCA standards don’t just cover the conditions in which the animals are kept, but also the staff caring for those animals, requiring that they are trained and competent.
You can find RSPCA Assured bacon, sausage and other pork products at your local supermarket. Follow the link below to add them to your weekly shop.
Don’t forget… pork and bacon are found in a lot of different products, from sandwiches to pies and quiches. So, don’t forget to check the label.