How can we ensure high welfare for farmed pigs?

Research indicates that welfare assurance schemes are still falling short of ambitions, but how can producers, vets, the food industry and consumers push for better welfare for pigs?

19 June 2019, at 2:55pm

What is a "life worth living"?

The Five Freedoms were formulated by Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) in the 1970’s, and are now well recognised internationally. In accordance, UK legislation and farm assurance schemes have traditionally focused on limiting some of the negative aspects of welfare featured in the five freedoms. However, over time, our aims have shifted from not just alleviating negative experiences for animals in their farmed environments, but to facilitating the expression of positive psychological wellbeing.

FAWC recently proposed that the minimum standards of farm animal welfare should move beyond the assessment of the Five Freedoms to achieve a ‘life worth living’, and as an aspirational standard, introduced the concept of a ‘good life’ in 2009. To experience a ‘life worth living’, animals should experience interest, comfort, pleasure and confidence (Mellor, 2016). To this end, animals on commercial farms can be provided with varied resources such as bedding and foraging substrates, exercise areas and enrichment objects that they can choose (Edgar et al., 2013).

In order to facilitate normal behaviours in pigs, and the opportunity to live a ‘life worth living’ or ‘a good life’, we can provide them with a constant supply of manipulable materials and toys, fibrous foods, deep substrate for rooting, and the space to move around in their environment and perform synchronous lying behaviours (Mullan et al., 2011).

FAI’s veterinary consultant Laura Higham recently presented at the 12th Boehringer Ingelheim Expert Forum on Farm Animal Well-being in Prague, and made the case for phasing out all confinement systems in pig production to enable species-specific behavioural opportunities as a necessity, not a luxury. Her full article on The Pig Site can be found here.

What can swine vets do to ensure the “life worth living” ethos is being adopted on farm and translated to consumers?

"The only way to ensure a ‘life worth living’ for animals is to provide them with opportunities to express normal behaviours and to facilitate positive psychological wellbeing at all stages of the production cycle, including during the peri-parturient period," says Dr Laura Higham. "In practice, this means the adoption of free-farrowing systems."

"I believe that vets, as trusted advisors, can open-up discussions of production system modifications with their clients – to either encourage the addition of resources for enrichment to existing systems in the short-term, or to promote adoption of free farrowing systems that will serve both animal welfare needs as well as citizen demands well in to the future.

"The most critical time for these discussions is prior investment in new infrastructure on farm, which presents an opportunity for system change."

How can consumers ensure they are buying welfare assured products? And how can they support the choose assured campaign to ensure better compliance with welfare standards?

"Citizens can consult the BVA’s #ChooseAssured infographic, and select products bearing the assurance scheme logos that align most closely with their own values," Dr Higham explains.

"For me, this means seeking assurance scheme logos on eggs and pork products that ensure animals are not produced in close confinement.

"It’s our job in coming years to ensure everyone in our society understands and values these products in terms of their impact on animal welfare, and can make an informed choice."

For more information on free farrowing, click here.

The Choose Assured Infographic (BVA, 2018)
The Choose Assured Infographic (BVA, 2018)
Edgar, J., Mullan, S., Pritchard, J., McFarlane, U., Main, D. (2013) Towards a ‘Good Life’ for farm animals: Development of a Resource Tier Framework to Achieve Positive Welfare for Laying Hens.. Animals, 3:584-605
Mellor, D. (2016) Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving beyond the “Five Freedoms” towards “A Life Worth Living”.. Animals, 6(21)
Mullan, S., Edwards, S.A., Butterworth, A., Whay, H.R. and Main, D. C. J. (2011) A pilot investigation of possible positive system descriptors in finishing pigs.. Animal Welfare, 20: 439-449

More from this author
Sponsor message

Ensure continuous feed flow and keep your animals fed.