pink piglet

PIGS

Many people have heard that pigs are smarter than dogs; what they might not realise is how much smarter. Considered one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, pigs are cognitively complex beings who learn tricks quickly, enjoy solving puzzles, navigating mazes, playing computer games, and more. They have good memories and excellent spatial awareness.

Pigs are highly social, and like us, they are highly tuned in to the emotional states of those around them, responding in the same manner and displaying what scientists refer to as 'emotional contagion'.[1] They are also vocal, affectionate animals who greet their friends with snorts and grunts and who thrive on physical contact, often choosing to sleep beside one another.

Pigs also have an excellent sense of smell (better than that of dogs) and in natural settings love to explore their environment, wandering, investigating and foraging over long distances.

Contrary to popular belief, pigs are very clean animals. In fact, they prefer to keep a well-organised living space, even designated certain areas for toilet, feeding and sleeping. They do, however, love rolling in the mud. This is because they lack sweat glands and have very sensitive skin, so they are susceptible not only to overheating but sunburn! 

We kill 10 million pigs a year in the UK. The majority are raised in intensive farms; many never see daylight until they are on the way to the slaughterhouse.[2] Everything we do to them is entirely contrary to the natural instincts described above. They are crowded into confined warehouses and forced to live in their own waste. In the case of breeding sows--pigs kept constantly pregnant to fulfill consumers' appetite for pork--they are trapped in a farrowing crate too small to turn around in. As a supposed nod to the considerable intelligence of these animals, the government requires 'enrichment materials' on pig farms--a single chain hanging from the ceiling is one of the most common ones. No wonder pigs so often go mad.

 

This 2019 video, which was made on farms owned by East Anglia Pig Company (the third largest pig meat producer in the UK) demonstrates the routine cruelty of the industry.

 

SOWS AND PIGLETS

The majority of female pigs in the UK are kept in farrowing crates prior to giving birth.[3] These crates are considered inhumane enough that they are banned in Switzerland, Sweden and Norway, and are very similar to the infamously cruel ‘gestation crate’, which are banned in the European Union and several U.S. states. Farrowing crates are made up of metal bars that severely restrict any movement. The pig cannot turn around; she can lie down, stand up or sit. The industry sometimes claims that this is for the benefit of the piglets, and that otherwise, the mother would crush them, but research shows that there is no statistical difference in piglet mortality between crated and uncrated sows.[4]

This captivity frustrates the natural instinct of sows to build nests for their coming litter, and they are often seen making down-forward-and-up movements in a desperate attempt to build one. However, the floor is bare concrete with a wooden, slatted area for waste; alternatively, the entire space is slatted. Sometimes systems provide wood litter to reduce the chance of the pig slipping and falling on her piglets, but it is not enough to provide nesting material or bedding.[5]

Once the piglets are born, their mother is barely able to touch them; they must suckle through the bars of the crate. She will be kept confined like this until the industry considers the piglets weaned. In nature, this process takes three to four months on average. On farms, however, the piglets are separated from their mother at three weeks old, causing considerable distress. Within two weeks, she will be impregnated again, usually via artificial insemination.[6]

Like all female animals in the food industry, this repeated cycle of pregnancy and separation continues until the sow’s reproductive system is exhausted and her body can no longer endure the strain. She will be two or three to four years old and every year will have given birth to two litters of 10 to 12 piglets.[7] Despite the fact that pigs can live 15 to 20 years, the industry considers her ‘spent’ at this point and she will be sent to slaughter.  Her worn body will be used to make low-quality products like pork pies and sausages.

 

MANIPULATIONS AND MUTILATIONS

The following procedures are commonly carried out on pigs within the meat industry in the UK:

Artificial insemination and electro–ejaculation

​The insemination process involves confining a sow in a pen and stimulating her by ‘exposure’ to a boar. A catheter is then inserted into her vulva to deposit the collected semen. Her movement is severely restricted during this time by metal restraining device. The process can last for up to seven minutes.[8]

Tail docking and teeth clipping/grinding


Conditions on farms are so dire for these complex and intelligent animals that they are frequently driven mad with frustration and boredom and turn upon one another in an unnatural manner. Stress-related behaviors, such as cannibalism and tail-biting are a common result. Rather than improve the conditions, however, farms opt to cut off the pigs' tails.

Government welfare standards state that tail-docking is illegal except as 'a last resort', and yet, 84% of piglets in the UK have their tails docked.[9] Piglets are held by their back leg or around the hips while a worker uses heated blade or pliers to remove part of their tails. As long as this is done before seven days of age (as is standard), no anaesthetic is legally required.[10]


Piglets are born with four 'needle teeth' in the four corners of their mouth. Under normal conditions, these sharp little teeth are not a signficant issue for pigs. On farms, however, mother pigs are bred to have more piglets than they would naturally and are confined to farrowing crates in which they cannot turn around. Thus, the piglets injure one another competing for the limited number of nipples and they injure their mother, who is unable to retreat or stop them from doing so, resulting in infections. Farms typically deal with the issue by cutting the piglets' teeth with clippers or grinding them down with a grinder tool. 

 

The reality for pigs

In 2015, Viva! investigators filmed at a farm that boasts of Red Tractor accreditation and produces 20,000 pigs a year for supermarkets such as Morrisons. What their cameras found will shock you.

 

TRANSPORTATION

Pigs are transported long distances, frequently with poor ventilation and temperature control, before they reach the slaughterhouse. As pigs are sensitive to high temperatures and humidity, this stressful journey sometimes causes them to die from heatstroke.


Current UK legislation allows for pigs to be transported up to 24 hours followed by a day’s rest with food and water. Pigs can then be transported for a further 24 hours.[11] This is a long and stressful time for pigs, even assuming that welfare standards are actually followed. It is not uncommon for pigs to experience even longer periods of time in such conditions.

dirty pig on transport truck-photo Sean Allen, Rambles with My Camera, Facebook
 

SLAUGHTER

Gas chambers (CO2 stunning)

Most of the pigs in the UK are killed via gas chamber in an incredibly cruel method of slaughter (also known as 'CO2 stunning') which sees pigs herded into metal cages and either lowered into a cell or a sealed cabinet which fills with CO2. As the gas enters their lungs, pigs scream and thrash for up to a minute while the CO2 burns them from the inside out.[12],[13] After they have lost consciousness, their throats are cut, though sometimes they wake up first.


69 animal organisations, including the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming, have come out in opposition to the method, as has the government's own expert advisory body, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, who in 2003 stated that it was 'not acceptable' and recommended that it be banned within five years.[14] This hasn't happened; in fact, the number of pigs killed via CO2 has gone up. This is perhaps not surprising from a business perspective: CO2 stunning is both less expensive and more efficient than the alternative method of slaughter, electrical stunning. (Electrical stunning, of course, has its own welfare issues, but when done correctly does generally result in an instantaneous loss of consciousness.) 

There is no way to know whether the pig meat in the supermarket was obtained via gas chamber; ASDA, Morrison's, Tesco and Sainsbury have all stated that the pig meat they sell was produced via CO2 stunning and Red Tractor condones its use.[15] It is even used for organic meat and other labels considered by some people to be 'high welfare' options.[16]

 

Despite the fact that the gas chamber has been used for pigs since the late 1990s, the first ever undercover video was taken in Australia in 2014.

 

References

  1. Bekoff, Marc, PhD, Pigs are Intelligent, Emotional, and Cognitively Complex, Psychology Today, 12-6-2015 

  2. Colley, Claire and Andrew Wasley, Industrial-sized pig and chicken farming continuing to rise in UK, The Guardian, 7-4-2020

  3. Farming Pigs, RSPCA

  4. Ceballos, Maria Camila, Karen Camille Rocha Góis,Thomas D. Parsons, Meghann Pierdon, Impact of Duration of Farrowing Crate Closure on Physical Indicators of Sow Welfare and Piglet Mortality, Animals, 4-2021

  5. The life of - Pigs, Compassion in World Farming, 20-5-2013

  6. Farm Animals: Pig Welfare, Compassion in World Farming, 2020

  7. Ibid.

  8. Pettitt, Martin, Practical Aspects of Artificial Insemination, The Pig Site, 9-10-2004

  9. Case, Philip, Majority of pigs still tail docked in EU countries, study finds, Farmers Weekly, 16-11-2018

  10. Tail Docking, The Pig Site, 12-4-2012

  11. Welfare of Animals During Transport: Advice for transporters of pigs, Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs 

  12. Verhoevel, Merel, Marien Gerritzen, Antonio Velarde, Ludo Hellebrekers and Bas Kemp, Time to Loss of Consciousness and Its Relation to Behavior in Slaughter Pigs during Stunning with 80 or 95% Carbon Dioxide, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 19-5-2016

  13. Dalton, Jane, Pigs ‘burn from the inside out’ in gas chambers: Why carbon dioxide is the meat industry’s best-kept secret, The Independent, 9-10-2019

  14. Lymberry, Philip, Scandal of Supermarket Gassing for Pigs, 8-2018

  15. Ibid.

  16. Ibid.