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Do pigs experience better welfare in smaller intensive units compared to larger ones?

Updated: Oct 19, 2019

The National pig association briefing from 2015 highlighted that large units most commonly house their pigs indoors, where large groups of pigs are housed together. This has an immediate impact on welfare, as individual pig behaviour or injury is more likely to go unnoticed. In this case, the ‘large unit’ is defined as a farm with 2,500 breeding sows and offspring, or potentially producing up to 1000 pigs for slaughter a week.


The paper above also claims that larger units are less likely to be part of a quality assurance scheme, including those set by the BMPA (British Meat Producers Association), who control well known assurance projects such as Red Tractor, and Red Tractor Pork. The Red Tractor Pork Scheme currently monitor 92% of the pork produced in the UK, which includes both extensive and intensively farmed pigs (BMPA Pork Scheme, 2016).


It is argued however, that while keeping pigs indoors is associated with poor welfare and ‘unnatural’ conditions, having animals kept indoors will provide them with protection from extreme weather conditions and lowers the neonatal mortality rate due to controlled heating and lighting availability.


The RSPCA, one of the most well-known animal welfare organisations in the UK also stated that ‘‘it is not the scale of production that, in itself, has an impact on animal welfare, but the conditions under which the animals are kept” in a publication titled Large Scale Farming in 2014.


The National Pig Associate (NPA) in 2014 also made a statement that their farmers are constantly striving to increase efficiency, but this will never impact the welfare of their animals. They also stated that when planning new holdings or upgrading current intensive holdings, welfare should not be considered during planning. As welfare is not a planning issue, planning cannot be rejected based on welfare issues highlighted, even if there is proven history of planning impacting welfare in other incidences.


Many arguments have been highlighted about intensive pig welfare, and how the larger the farm, the worse the animal’s welfare appears to be, based on real factors such as stock density and collecting data about neonatal morality and stereotypical behaviours.


As discussed before, intensive pig farming has a plethora of issues surrounding welfare, and it would appear that these occur regardless of being on large unit. This idea is particularly prominent when you consider that the vast majority of intensive and extensive pig farming in the UK is Red Tractor approved, and that bares little bias to farm size.


Overall, I believe that the welfare issues lie with the system of production that is intensive farming, and whether on a small or large scale, the welfare issues remain. As a closing statement, I will refer back to the NPA, where they stated that they believe that having a larger farm unit does not mean that the welfare is lower. It simply comes down to farm management, and how staff treat the individual animals.

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References

AHDB (2015) Pig Holdings in the UK. Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board. Available at: http://pork.ahdb.org.uk/prices-stats/industry-structure/pig-holdings-in-the-uk/

AHDB Pork (2016) AHDB Pork Business Plan 2016-2019. Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board. Available at: http://www.ahdb.org.uk/publications/documents/BusinessPlanAHDBPork2Dec-finalsign-off.pdf

BMPA (2016) BMPA Pork Scheme, Raising and Promoting standards. Webpage, available at: http://www.bmpa.uk.com/Content/standards.aspx

Brambilla, G. & Cantafora, A. (2004) Metabolic and cardiovascular disorders in highly inbred lines for intensive pig farming: how animal welfare evaluation could improve the basic knowledge of human obesity. Dipartimento di Ematologia, Rome, Italy.

Broom, D. M. & Corke, M. J. (2002) Effects of Disease on Farm Animal Welfare. Department of Clinical Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge. Cambridge, UK. Available at: https://actavet.vfu.cz/media/pdf/avb_2002071010133.pdf

DEFRA (2016). United Kingdom Slaughter Statistics – June 2016. Department for Environmental Food & Rural Affairs. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/546546/slaughter-statsnotice-14jul16.pdf

European Commission Agriculture and Rural Development Department (2011) EU Agricultural Economic Briefs; What is a small farm? Brief number 2. European Union Publication. Available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/rural-area-economics/briefs/pdf/02_en.pdf [Accessed 20th October 2016].

Eurostat FSS (2012) Agricultural Census in the United Kingdom. Eurostat. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Agricultural_census_in_the_United_Kingdom#Further_Eurostat_information

Gellatley, J. (2016). Pig Farming: The Inside Story. Viva! Charity press. Bristol, UK. PDF Download from: http://www.viva.org.uk/sites/default/files/pig-report.pdf

House of Commons (2009) The English Pig Industry. House of Commons, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmenvfru/96/96.pdf

Hubbard, C. (2009) Small Farms in the EU: How Small is Small? University of Kent, Canturby, UK. 26-27th June, 2009. Available online at: https://www.kent.ac.uk/economics/documents/research/ceas/2009/Contributed%20papers/093.pdf [Accessed: 20th October 2016].

Lyons, C. A. P., Bruce, J. M. & Fowler, V. R. (1995) A Comparison of productivity and welfare of growing pigs in four intensive systems. Livestock production science. Elsevier, UK.

Moinard, C., Mendl, M., Nicol, C. J., & Green, L. E. (2003) A case control study of on-farm risk factors for tail biting in pigs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Elsevier, UK.

National Pig Association (2015) NPA briefing note on large-scale pig farms. National Pig Association. Available at: http://www.npa-uk.org.uk/res/NPA%20position%20statement%20on%20large-scale%20pig%20farms.pdf

RSPCA (2014) Large Scale Farming. RSPCA publications. PDF download from: https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/farm

Thornton, P. K. (2010) Livestock Production: recent trends, future prospects. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Biological Science.

Velarde, A., Fábrega, E., Blanco-Penedo, I. & Dalmu A. (2015) Animal Welfare towards sustainability in pork meat production. Meat Science, Elsevier, France.

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