The docking of pigs’ tails to allow for higher stocking densities, the transportation of live animals for up to 18 hours in ships’ holds and sealed trucks, and illegal slaughterhouse practices are just some of the ways in which farm animals in the European Union (EU) are abused, according to a report published by the European Court of Auditors this month.
The report examined the welfare of farm animals across Europe. It found that intensive farming systems increase the risks of animal abuse on farms.
Lead author of the report, Janusz Wojciechowski, told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that “In intensive farming systems the risk for animal welfare is increased. When there are 100,000 pigs it is very difficult to control. Small farms are easier places to achieve high animal welfare standards.”
According to the report, unnaturally high numbers of animals living together leads “to aberrant behaviour in laying hens such as feather pecking and cannibalism, aggression and tail biting in pigs and aggression in calves”. To address that behaviour “it is common practice to perform painful physical alterations … in particular beak trimming, tail docking, castration and teeth clipping.”
Evidence of pig tail docking was found on German and Romanian farms, even though it has been illegal in the EU since 2001. Only Finland and Sweden have properly controlled pig tail docking and provided useful “enrichment materials” to ease the boredom of farm animals, according to the report.
Other areas of concern are:
- Inadequate or incorrect use of stunning in slaughterhouses. Stunning is a way to render an animal unconscious so that it does not feel the actual killing.
- The transportation of animals over long distances without adequate feed or rest periods.
- Countries in the EU have been slow to respond to guidelines and prohibit, for example, “forced moulting” – the practice of starving and dehydrating hens to encourage them to lay more eggs.
To address these and other problems, the report proposes a number of actions. These include improvements to enforcement, compliance, the animal welfare portion of EU rural development programmes, inspections and the penalty system. The European commission has accepted almost all the recommendations and the report will now be presented to the EU parliament and agriculture committee. From there, debates on legislative and other actions will follow.