The Issue Of Routine Tail Docking Inside UK Pig Farms
UK Pig Farming: An Overview
Approximately ten million pigs are slaughtered in the UK every year, with the vast majority living on intensive factory farms.
Pigs on factory farms typically undergo mutilations, such as teeth clipping and tail docking and suffer from several animal welfare issues. These include confinement in farrowing crates, where mother pigs are kept before, during and for weeks after giving birth without being able to move or turn around.
UK Pig Farming: The Issue Of Tail Docking
Tail docking is a common practice in UK pig farms and causes extreme suffering to pigs. It is carried out without anaesthetic by farmers, often when the piglet is only 1-3 days old, to prevent pigs confined together from biting each other’s tails. This behaviour can result from boredom, frustration, disease, and lack of space and enrichment (regular provision of dynamic environments, cognitive challenges and social opportunities).
According to UK law, tail docking must only be conducted when other methods to prevent tail biting, such as enrichment, have been unsuccessful. However, according to our new report, compiled with The Animal Law Foundation, routine tail docking is carried out on over 70% of UK pig farms.
Routine tail docking is not permitted. Tail docking should only be used as a last resort, after improvements to the pigs’ environment and management have proved ineffectual in preventing tail biting.Section 124, Defra’s Code of Practice for the Welfare of Pigs
Besides being extremely painful and causing a lot of stress to pigs, tail docking can cause infections that can leave lasting pain for the animals.
This issue is exacerbated by the number of pigs that are housed in factory farms with inadequate space and enrichment. The number of industrial-sized pig farms, in fact, is continuing to rise in the UK, with currently close to 2,000 across the UK, each often housing a minimum of 2,000 pigs.
Even when pigs have their tails cut off, biting of the remaining tail stump can still happen because the animals are so stressed by their unnatural environment. Many piglets develop neuromas where the stump becomes a ball of tangled nerves. This causes a phantom limb which continues to cause them pain throughout their entire lives.
The Issue of Tail Docking: Our Findings
In our report, alongside The Animal Law Foundation, we found that – between 2013-2017- 71% of pigs in the UK had their tails docked. This means that the current legal requirement that only permits tail docking as a last resort is currently not being followed.
In 2017, Animal Equality investigators filmed inside four British pig farms across a two-month period. Tail docking was routinely carried out on all four farms. Tail docking was also documented in our latest investigation inside a Scottish pig farm, which we released in April 2021.
The problem is worsened by inadequate record-keeping and a lack of inspections on farms up and down the UK. Our joint report in fact shows that on average fewer than 3% of UK farms are inspected by an official regulatory body each year. This means that 97 of every 100 farms are not formally inspected.
The serious lack of oversight inside farms and slaughterhouses is a matter of national urgency. The UK claims to be a nation of animal lovers, with some of the highest welfare standards in the world, farms are not frequently inspected, leaving the opportunity for animal abuse to go entirely undetected.
Animal Equality has launched a petition demanding that the UK Government puts into place a more robust system, where more regular inspections are carried out inside farms and slaughterhouses, and where facilities that do not pass the inspection are not allowed to operate.
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