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Monday, 1 February, 1999, 19:34 GMT
British pigs suffer, say campaigners
Killing of 14m pigs a year is a "grim process", say campaigners
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

A group that campaigns against the intensive farming of animals, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), says the British pig industry is responsible for "an immense amount of animal suffering".

Farming in Crisis
CIFW, commenting on a march by pig farmers in London to demand support from the government, told BBC News Online it supported some of their claims.

"We applaud them for demanding that pork and bacon from countries that use worse methods than they do should not be imported", said CIWF's Peter Stevenson.

"British farmers have certainly been using more humane methods since the beginning of 1999, when stalls and tethers were banned in the United Kingdom."

Chained to floor

These are two methods of controlling breeding sows during their pregnancies, which last 16 weeks and which usually follow one another in quick succession.

The metal-barred stalls are too narrow to allow the animals to turn round, while the tether system involves chaining them to the floor.

Both methods are regarded by animal welfare experts as cruel, and both became illegal in Britain on 1 January.

But Peter Stevenson says pigs reared, not for breeding, but for their meat, can still have a bleak and painful life, and a wretched death.

In 1994 it became illegal for farmers to dock the tails of their pigs as a matter of routine, though docking is still allowed if there are signs of tail-biting in the herd.

Tail-biting causes infection and abscesses. CIWF says it believes about 80% of pigs on British farms are still routinely docked.

Bored pigs

"It's done with pliers, or with a hot docking iron", says Peter Stevenson. "Farmers say it doesn't hurt - but we have evidence it hurts at the time, and for the rest of the pig's life.

"In any case, it's hardly ever necessary. Pigs are active and very intelligent animals. A tail-biting pig is a bored pig.

"Give them the environment they need - enough space, a supply of straw, proper food and water - and they'll be happy.

"The European Commission's scientific veterinary committee says that is enough virtually to eliminate tail-biting."

'Dying animals slaughtered'

CIWF says ideally pigs should be kept out of doors, or else in well-ventilated buildings with natural light and straw to root around in.

But it says many are kept on concrete or slatted floors, in buildings where they often catch respiratory diseases.

"A veterinary surgeon from the north of England told me of intensive pig farms he knew where about 20% of the animals were dying before they could be sent for slaughter", says Peter Stevenson.

About 14m pigs are slaughtered in Britain annually, and Mr Stevenson says the killing "can at times be a grim process which can go badly wrong".

Most pigs - CIWF says about 75-80% - are electrically stunned before having their throats cut while they are unconscious.

'Low welfare standards'

But CIWF cites a Bristol University study conducted five years ago, which it says revealed a disturbing picture.

"All of the 19 abattoirs they surveyed were using an electric current below that recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture for an effective stun", says Peter Stevenson.

"One in three of the pigs had the electrodes attached to its head in the wrong position.

"And 15% of the animals needed stunning a second time.

"The other slaughter method is to use carbon dioxide, which is meant first to stun and then to kill the pigs.

"It has been shown to cause severe respiratory distress, and what the experts refer to as 'profound aversion'."

He acknowledges that things may now be better than they were five years ago, and that not all abattoirs are bad. But he describes killing pigs as "the most problematic part of the slaughter process".

And Mr Stevenson says the British pig industry "may well have the highest welfare standards in the world - but they are still pretty low".

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