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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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
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