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Dock the tails!

Living conditions for European pigs don't live up to expectations or legislation. Photo: Asger Ladefoged

Despite a European ban Danish farmers are performing tail docking on more than 90 percent of all pigs. Animal welfare NGOs criticises the national politicians for not implementing and controlling the EU legislation.

by Jonas Sloth Bach

At Sjørup Pigfarm Niels Rauff Hansen, 38, is overlooking his pigs. There are a little more than 2000 here on the farm outside the city of Viborg. They are grunting round the place. Crowded like a rush-hour subway in Tokyo but with a rather different level of cleanness and smell. It is to be honest a mess. Same for all the pigs is, that they have less than half their tail left. Niels Rauff Hansen explains why.
“Simply, this is the only way to be sure that the pigs don’t start biting each others tales,” he says. He knows that the procedure is illegal to perform as a routine, but Niels Rauff Hansen does not feel ha can take any chances.
“Tail biting is a very serious problem, and the only way I can be sure to avoid it is by docking the tails. It only hurts for a while – the bites will hurt all the time and maybe even cause the pig to die from infection. I don’t want to run that risk”, he says.

Pigs draw the short straw

Photo: Asger Ladefoged

Birgitte Damm, spokesperson for the biggest Danish animal welfare NGO: Animals Protection is educated as a veterinary doctor and she is in charge of their project on pigs. She has heard explanations like Niels Rauff Hansens many times before. But she is still deeply against tail docking.
“Tail biting is a result of stress; to little space to move around on, insufficient amount of straw in the stalls or poor living conditions in other ways. Tail biting is the pigs only way to signal these things and tail docking does not solve the problem – it only removes the visible symptom,” Birgitte Damm says. Research show that only 5 percent of Danish pigs gets straw at all. The straws provide comfort but most important; it is a much needed activity to prevent stress among the pigs.
“It is very well documented that strawing helps a lot, so there is an easy way to solve the problem,” Birgitte Damm says. In this aspect the legislation is quite clear. You are not allowed to perform tail docking if you haven’t done everything you can to prevent tail biting using other methods.

Illegal procedure
On the 18th of December 2008 the European parliament decided on a regulation that prohibited routinely tail docking but resent studies show that the effect of the legislation has been all but visible. A report from December last year made by a cooperation between the Danish ministry of agriculture, veterinary doctors and NGOs representing both farmers and animal welfare fighters stated that more than 95 percent of all pigs suffer tail docking. The same percentage is documented in international reports made by EU in 2007 and 2008.
In addition to this legislation there are also rules on straw bedding, space regulations and ventilation. But the words written in law books have little impact on the reality of modern pig farming.

Docking out of control
The key problem is that the laws are not being carried out. And the farmers in general are not afraid to break them.
“The laws are not being kept and there does not exist neither control nor sanctions to the farmers breaking them,” Birgitte Damm from Animal Protection says. She is supported by Compassion in World Farming. A big NGO who themselves has made investigative video journalism and statistic on this topic.
“Our undercover investigation into 74 farms have revealed that pigs are all too often being kept in barren conditions and basic European laws are being routinely broken,” they claim.
To Birgitte Damm the responsibility lies with the Danish politicians.
“Yes, I must admit the state is not good enough enforcing the laws. But it might also be effective to make clearer and higher minimums for the amount of straw bedding etc.,” she says and continues:
“The legislation on tail docking is not enough in itself, even if it was kept the legislation wouldn’t be enough to make pig’s conditions good enough,” Birgitte Damm says.
“We want stricter regulation on the issues that really matters to create better living conditions for the pigs”


Photo: Asger Ladefoged

Responsibility – care or share?
The European Union recognizes that their legislation is still not ‘fully implemented’. A vague statement taken into consideration that tail docking appears routinely in more than 90 percent of the central European farms. At the same time EU refuses to take any more responsibility towards the welfare on pig farms.
“Member States are primarily responsible for implementing these requirements. However, the Commission works to ensure that Member States apply EU legislation. To this effect, the FVO carries out regularly audits in Member States,” Aikaterini Apostola, Press Officer for Health and Consumer Policy, states. During these audits, inspections are carried out in pig farms and the system of controls put in place by Member States to ensure the application of EU law regarding the welfare of pigs is assessed. 
“In case deficiencies are found, recommendations are made to Member States to correct them,” Aikaterini Apostola says. She shows optimism for the future of European pigs.
”It appears that Member States have slowly started to develop guidance for veterinarians and for farmers to better implement the provision of enrichment material and the avoidance of routine tail docking,” she says without giving any good examples.


Blame it on the bacon
In Denmark the legislation from EU was quickly implemented in the Danish law text. But now three years after the only pigs who get to keep their tail are those living in free range and organic farms. The rest still get their tails docked. It has not been possible to get a comment from the minister of agriculture, but so far the new government has not shown any signals of improving legislation.
The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration is in charge of the control audits and they have been criticised for not doing enough. And they are aware of the challenge.
“I realize that the number of tail docked pigs is far to high,” they state.

Video from Compassion in World Farming