LONDON, 5th July 2022
The Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation (CAWF) has today published a report on the practice of pig farrowing crates in the UK.
The report, ‘Banning Farrowing Crates in the UK: Transitioning to free farrowing to meet the welfare needs of pigs’, calls for end to the use of farrowing crates and is dedicated to CAWF’s late Patron Sir David Amess who championed this campaign and many others.
Today’s report shows the typical sow spends 22% of her adult breeding life confined in a tiny crate, given sows are crated one week prior to farrowing and sows produce around 2.3 litters per year. Many countries have outlawed this practice, but it is still used for 60% of UK herds (around 200,000 sows).
Key highlights of the report include:
- The serious welfare issues associated with the use of pig farrowing crates: Severe confinement means the mother pig is unable to perform any natural and normal social behaviours, such as interacting with her piglets, rooting, and digging. Studies consistently demonstrate that sows experience much stress and suffering, and often endure physical injuries. It is the most severe degree of confinement of farmed animals of any system in the UK and European Union.
- The potential illegality of pig farrowing crates: The use of farrowing crates may not be compliant with the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Welfare of Farmed Animals (England) Regulations 2007, since they do not provide space appropriate for the physiological and behavioural needs of sows (Schedule 1), and pigs are not able to freely turn around in crates (Schedule 8).
- Comparable pig mortality rates for free farrowing systems: Outdoor and zero confinement indoor pens have demonstrated equal and better piglet mortality rates compared to the farrowing crate. For example, PigSAFE (Piglet and Sow Alternative Farrowing Environment), funded by Defra, is a zero-confinement system designed to meet the biological and welfare needs of sows, and achieve comparable mortality levels to the farrowing crate. Given the critical period for piglet mortality is 72 hours after birth, today’s report also suggests it is unnecessary to crate piglets until weaning at four weeks.
- Other countries which have successfully made the transition to free farrowing systems: Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland have all banned farrowing crates, while Germany and Austria have passed legislation to end their use. Data from Switzerland reveals that there has been no significant change in piglet mortality levels since the ban was brought into effect. Moreover, the EU’s announcement to ban cages for farmed animals by 2027 means the UK runs a risk of falling behind.
Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation is recommending that Defra’s Animal Health and Welfare Pathway subsidises a transition to free farrowing systems as soon as practically possible. The legislation brought forward must not include the temporary crating of sows and should include a ‘sunset clause’ in order to ensure there is as little delay as possible.
You can read CAWF’s full report on pig farrowing crates here.
Lorraine Platt, Co-Founder of Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, commented: “Today’s report shines a spotlight on one of the most distressing practices employed in UK farming. The serious welfare issues associated with farrowing crates necessitate that we transition to free farrowing systems without delay, and put an end to the physical and psychological harm that around 200,000 sows currently endure each year.
“We are encouraged by the evidence that free farrowing systems demonstrate equal -and in some cases better- piglet mortality rates than crates, such as the Defra-funded PigSAFE system. Given this evidence, we can no longer use pig mortality as a justification for the use of farrowing crates and must not accept temporary crates as a short term solution.
“It is critical that the UK does not fall behind other countries who have already banned farrowing crates, including Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. We hope that this report will ignite change and encourage policymakers to transition away from this practice.”
Victoria Prentis MP, Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, commented: “This is an important report as we seek to further understand the welfare implications of farrowing crates and the alternative systems available which can actually reduce piglet mortality.
“Our aim is ultimately for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary, and this remains an objective that we continue to work towards. As this report demonstrates, there are alternatives to farrowing crates, including the Defra funded PigSAFE zero confinement system.
“This will be a priority for the Government as we seek to progress the Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, and we look forward to sharing detail on this in due course.”