Piglets are forced to endure painful mutilations in factory farming. It’s time to end their suffering

Posted on 31 October 2019 by

Guest Blogger

in the Animals in farming blog

As one of the most intensively farmed animals on the planet, pigs suffer from the moment they are born

When allowed to follow natural instincts, piglets stay with their mothers until they are between 10 and 14 weeks old, when they are old enough to face the world. This is in stark contrast to the life they face on a factory farm.  

On factory farms, mother pigs are used as breeding machines and their piglets are ripped away when they are just three weeks old, sometimes even younger. These piglets are born into a lifetime of suffering.  

Natural instincts denied  

The mother pig has a natural instinct to nest to prepare for the birth of their piglets, but she cannot do this in a steel cage on a factory farm.  

When her piglets are born, she can’t always reach them to form a bond. Mother pigs are intentionally bred to have litters so large there aren’t even enough teats to feed all her piglets.

Painful mutilations 

Most people aren’t aware that in their first week of life, piglets are forced to endure painful mutilations, often without pain relief.  

This includes having their tails cut off, their ears being notched to identify them, their teeth being clipped and male piglets being castrated.   

Taken from their mother 

Piglets are also removed from their mother so she can breed again as quickly as possible. This is not only distressing for both mother pig and piglets, but also has health implications for pigs and for people. Piglets weaned too early are more likely to develop illness and disease, meaning farmers routinely give them antibiotics to try and prevent them from getting sick, rather than preserving antibiotics to treat sick animals.  

The overuse of antibiotics in farming is contributing to the growth of superbugs, rendering these antibiotics ineffective for human medicine.

Consumers want change 

We know people want piglets to have better lives. Polling by World Animal Protection in 11 countries across Europe, the Americas and Australasia, demonstrates that people are horrified when they find out about the treatment mother pigs and piglets endure.  

More than 60% of people in each country said they would ‘probably’ or ‘definitely’ not buy pork from a supermarket that sourced from systems where piglets experience teeth grinding, cutting or tail docking and castrations, sometimes without pain relief. Between 80% to 93% of people surveyed in each country also believe it is important pigs are reared with 'higher welfare standards.’

Pigs don’t have to live like this 

Since 2018, we have been campaigning for better welfare standards for pigs globally through our Raise Pigs Right campaign. Since the launch of our campaign, over 375,000 people have called on supermarkets, including Tesco, Walmart and Carrefour, to introduce better welfare standards for the pigs that provide their pork products globally; with Tops Market in Thailand and Kroger in the US committing to phase out cages for mother pigs.  

We’ve brought together global experts from industry, governments and civil society to identify the opportunities and barriers to ending painful piglet mutilations, and to share findings with peers to improve piglet welfare.   

We’ve released a business case, profiling how leading pig producing companies around the world have found higher welfare practices for piglets can be good for business as well as good for animals.  

Our asks are backed up by facts 

Pigs are thought to be as smart as a three-year-old child and have a range of behaviours similar to people. But, as they grow up in cramped, concrete pens with nothing to do, they may redirect their frustration by biting one another’s tails. However, removal of tails does not solve the problem.  

Giving pigs more space and material like straw, or other edible materials, to manipulate does work, and results in animals being less stressed and tail biting being minimised.  

By allowing piglets to remain with their mother for longer before weaning and giving pigs more room to move with enrichment to express natural behaviour, means pigs are happier and healthier. They have better immunity and are less susceptible to disease, significantly reducing the need for routine antibiotics: this change is good for pigs and good for people.

Help move companies to Raise Pigs Right  

As demand for meat continues to grow, it is vital pigs in factory farming have healthy, good lives. Supermarkets are the largest buyers and sellers of pork, and they care what their customers think and where they spend their money.  The more people who put pressure on supermarkets to improve the welfare of pigs, the more likely they are to listen, and piglets can be freed from a life of suffering. 

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