Animal Health

EFSA gives box stand a thumbs down

With regard to farrowing systems, EFSA recommends doing away with crates and giving the sow more space.
IMAGO / Fotostand
With regard to farrowing systems, EFSA recommends doing away with crates and giving the sow more space.

In its opinion, the EU authority recommends immunocastration of piglets in addition to the recording of carcass findings. More space should be made available to pigs to improve animal welfare.

The collection of certain data in slaughterhouses should be used to improve animal health in pig farms. This is recommended in a comprehensive scientific opinion on the welfare of pigs on farms published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). It also addresses pig welfare issues raised by the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) "End the Cage Age."

According to EFSA, the paper is intended to provide the EU Commission with the scientific basis for a legislative proposal to revise animal welfare rules, which is expected to be presented in the second half of next year. Specifically, the experts advocate, among other things, recording tail injuries, carcass findings and lung damage during the slaughter of fattening pigs in order to draw conclusions about health problems on the farm. When slaughtering older sows, it is recommended to include carcass findings as well as overall condition, shoulder ulcers and genital injuries. According to the expert opinion, it is not useful to record lameness. Although this is an important indicator, lame animals should not be transported and the causes cannot be reliably attributed to the housing conditions.

Harmonize the recording of findings

In principle, EFSA recommends establishing uniform procedures for the recording of parameters in slaughterhouses in the European Union in order to ensure the comparability of data and also to expand the possibilities for application. With regard to the recording of tail injuries and lung damage, the authority is in favor of expanding and improving the automatic systems. For other parameters, however, a standardized assessment should be developed first. In Germany, diagnostic data are already collected in slaughterhouses. All larger slaughterhouses in the QS scheme are obliged to report findings data to QS. In addition to the service provider and the keeper, bundlers and livestock marketers can have access on a pro rata basis or under certain conditions; third parties such as veterinary administrations or consultants require authorization from the keeper. In Germany, 95% of fresh pork is QS certified.

Rejection of the crate system

In addition to data collection in slaughterhouses, the report addresses the improvement of animal health of pigs in the most common housing systems. Among others, gilts, piglets, runners and boars are addressed. With regard to farrowing systems, it is recommended to do without crates. A lactating sow should be provided with at least about 6.6 m2 to bring piglet losses to a level comparable to the crate system. Pregnant pigs should also be provided with nest-building material no later than the day before farrowing to allow for appropriate behavior. It is also recommended that play and activity opportunities be provided for the parent pig and piglets. In Germany, as is well known, the days of the crate pen are already numbered: in 2028, the transition period for its use in the mating center expires. In the farrowing area, sows will be allowed to spend a maximum of five days in crates from 2035 and must have 6.5 m2 of floor space in their pen and be able to turn around unhindered.

Immunocastration recommended

To improve the welfare of piglets, EFSA's experts are in favor of eliminating the need to grind down canine teeth through preventive measures wherever possible. Where the procedure is not to be dispensed with, skilled personnel should be used and a prior risk assessment carried out; the use of forceps is not endorsed. According to the report, anesthesia and analgesia are prerequisites for surgical castration; against the background of current economic conditions, however, the experts consider immunocastration to be the better alternative. A fundamental rejection is also given to the docking of the tails. If this should not be dispensed with, the intervention must be carried out as early as possible and by means of cauterization, according to the expert opinion. Accompanying it is recommended to develop suitable methods for pain relief. AgE