Female pigs must go cage-free, says EU agency

Female pigs must go cage-free, says EU agency
Credit: Compassion in World Farming, 2022

Far ahead of an EU Commission proposal to ban cages for farmed animals, the EU Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published on Wednesday an opinion on the welfare of farmed pigs and called for an end to the severe restriction of movement of female pigs (sows).

In the opinion, EFSA provides detailed suggestions to improve the welfare of all categories of farmed pigs in the EU. The opinion is the first of several opinions on animal welfare to be delivered in the coming year in the context of the Farm to Fork Strategy.

EFSA refers also to the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “End the Cage Age”, which was supported by ca 1.4 million citizens across all EU member states.

As previously reported, recent footage obtained as part of an investigation into pig farms in four EU member states revealed the suffering of caged sows. At present, the vast majority of sows in the EU spend about half their lives locked in crates so tight, preventing practically all movement apart from standing up or lying down.

When in confinement, sows cannot perform innate behaviours like foraging, exploring or caring for their young, says the EU agency, adding that they also experience hunger, heat stress and suffer from wounds.

The agency concludes that the welfare consequences of restriction of pregnant pigs “cannot be mitigated except by removing the animals from the stalls” and it recommends that pregnant sows are kept in groups instead.

EFSA also recommends that when nursing their piglets, sows should be kept in spacious individual pens, instead of small crates. “Pens (in which the sow can turn around) provide more behavioural freedom for sows compared to farrowing crates (in which she is fixed between bars),” states the agency.

“Citizens have repeatedly said loud and clear that the European Union needs to end the horror that mother pigs are currently subjected to,” commented Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU.

The Union’s official scientific body has just confirmed what citizens have known all along – sows suffer in crates, and this is completely unnecessary as viable alternatives exist. The EFSA report offers more proof that the EU cannot continue to drag its feet.”

The NGO is urging the European Commission to propose a ban on caged farming by mid-next year, earlier than the Commission intends to do. In June 2021, the Commission promised to put forward a legislative proposal by 2023 to prohibit the use of cages for millions of farmed animals.

EFSA will hold a public event on 26 September in which the results of the scientific opinion on the welfare of farmed pigs and the upcoming work on the transport of animals will be presented, including a Q&A session. More information can be found at this link.

The Brussels Times

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