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Pig Farm Standards are ‘Unacceptable’, Says Minister

by 5m Editor
19 May 2010, at 8:46am

DENMARK - The number of piglets dying after birth is unusually high on Danish pig farms partly due to high litter counts.

Food and agriculture minister Henrik Høegh is calling for the Veterinary and Food Administration to investigate conditions at the nation’s pig farms after a television documentary revealed that up to 25,000 piglets die each day.

According to information obtained by public broadcaster DR, 23.9 percent of all piglets born at farms die within four weeks.

The main reason for this is that Danish pigs have the world’s largest litters with an average of 16 piglets yielded from each sow, reports Jp.dk. But a sow only has a maximum of 14 teats, and therefore some newborns are unable to suckle.

Other common causes of the high mortality rate for Danish piglets according to DR are stillbirths and deformed or malnourished foetuses.

But Mr Høegh said the mortality rate was ‘unacceptable’ as it is and that, after he reviews the findings of the investigation, he will decide what further action to take.

In 1992 the average sow’s litter was 11 piglets, with the EU recommended maximum being 12.

Several political parties and animal rights organisation Dyrenes Beskyttelse are now calling for both Høegh and justice minister Brian Mikkelsen to look into whether the present conditions at the pig farms violate animal welfare laws.

Nicolaj Nørgaard, head of Danish Pig Production – who is responsible for the industry’s research and development – said that the strongest sows are typically set aside to feed an extra litter. He added he expected the number of births per sow to increase further in the upcoming years.

Dyrenes Beskyttelse’s Britta Riis pointed out that this process creates considerable stress for those sows, especially when they are kept in small box-like stalls to be fed.

"It’s a very poor way of raising pigs and demonstrates extremely poor ethics," said Ms Riis.

"DPP recommends that piglets under 700 grams be put down, and we find that unethical when instead the farmers could aim for smaller litters and produce stronger piglets without the intensely competitive conditions."

Mr Nørgaard said that the industry is naturally trying to bring down the piglet mortality rate.

"It’s in everyone’s interest to have as few dead pigs as possible," he said on DPP’s website. "We already recommended in 2004 that production focus more on stronger and healthier litters and sows," he said, adding that DPP continues to have ‘a strong focus’ on animal welfare and the environment.