Government Committee Report Favours Move to Free-Farrowing

UK - The Government’s Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) has released a new report that favours a move towards free farrowing systems.
calendar icon 4 December 2015
clock icon 3 minute read

Although the report says that these systems should be the aim, it also says that their commercial development is not yet sufficiently advanced to recommend compulsory replacement of farrowing crates.

The report was commended by the National Pig Association for containing sound common sense.

“It could prove a useful roadmap for the nation’s pig farmers as they strive continually to improve the internationally-recognised high-welfare credentials of the British pig industry,” said the NPA.

In particular the NPA welcomes the report’s recognition of attempts already being made by pig farmers to develop and trial workable free-farrowing systems. And it applauds the committee’s conclusion that future developments must be science-led and must be commercially viable.

There are practical, financial and welfare challenges involved in adopting free-farrowing systems, so retailers and consumers will have to demonstrate their willingness to pay a premium for pork from early adopters of such systems, according to the report, “Opinion on Free Farrowing Systems”.

And when retailers and labelling schemes set standards for free-farrowing systems, they should be “soundly based, established in consultation with farmers, and stable for long enough that farmers can recoup investments”, it adds.

NPA chief executive Dr Zoe Davies said: “Farrowing crates are used on about half of Britain’s pig farms, to protect piglets and stock-people from injury, and we agree with the European Food Safety Authority recommendation that free-farrowing systems should only be implemented if piglet mortality is no greater than the mean level in confined systems.

“We are in agreement with the Farm Animal Welfare Committee and European Food Safety Authority that accurate data is essential in order to make robust comparisons between confined and non-confined systems. And we are pleased the Farm Animal Welfare Committee places such importance on commercial viability.

“We are also pleased it warns against any future unilateral legislation in Britain. If and when we reach the stage where free-farrowing systems are proven to perform as well as farrowing crates, then any legislation must be at European Union level, and there must be a phase-in period that is agreed with the European pig industry.”

Farrowing crates are used almost universally in most pig-producing countries, to confine sows from a week before farrowing until weaning, to prevent piglets being crushed, and to protect farrowing-house maternity staff.

The FAWC report outlines a number of attempts to develop commercially-viable free farrowing systems, such as open-pen systems, where sows can be restrained during farrowing but are subsequently given whole-pen access, except for carefully designed piglet safe-havens.

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