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Brussels sets in motion plans to address tail biting  

15th Dec 2017 / By Alistair Driver

Member states have been asked to provide an action plan outlining how they intend to tackle the problem of tail biting in pigs.

pigs swedenNPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford recently attended a workshop organised by the European Commission on ‘actions to prevent tailbiting and reduce tail docking of pigs'.

Georgina said: “It became very clear at the meeting that the Commission is really focusing on this issue at the moment and it is now ramping up the pressure. They have asked member states to provide an action plan by January 2018 outlining how they will improve controls on the prevention of tail-biting and avoidance of tail-docking.

“They are not expecting countries to completely stop tail-docking, but they want to see progress and will be conducting missions throughout 2018 to review progress and assess compliance with the legislation.’

The relevant legislation is worded as follows: Neither tail-docking nor reduction of corner teeth must be carried out routinely but only where there is evidence that injuries to sows ’ teats or to other pigs ’ ears or tails have occurred. Before carrying out these procedures, other measures shall be taken to prevent tail-biting and other vices, taking into account environment and stocking densities. For this reason inadequate environmental conditions or management systems must be changed."

Georgina said the Commission wanted to see more evidence that farmers have implemented other measures before tail-docking.

“In particular, they feel that farmers should be reducing stocking density before docking otherwise they are in breach of the legislation. One of the Commission’s Veterinary Inspectors clearly said the argument sometimes used by farmers that they adhere to the minimum space allowance in the legislation holds no water,” she said.

Case studies

The workshop heard from farmers from various countries including Finland, Denmark and Sweden, about their experiences of rearing pigs with intact tails. The Commission has produced a couple of video case studies (one from Italy, one from Finland) and fact sheets, which can be viewed here

The Commission is encouraging national governments to consider setting up Rural Development Programmes accessing Pillar 2 funding to support farmers with stopping tail docking.

NPA is supporting Defra with the UK’s action plan by providing examples of activity and tools already in place in the UK pig industry regarding tail-biting, for example, AHDB’s web HAT and suggestions for how Government might support farmers to move away from tail docking.

“However, we are keen to impress on Defra that any funding made available should be flexible enough to allow farmers to try a range of measures to stop tail-docking, not just focusing on provision of straw and stocking density,” Georgina said.

“We will also do our best to ensure that Government’s approach is sensible and that Defra continues to acknowledge that tail-biting is a complex behaviour with no simple solution.”

  • The photo was taken during a visit to Sweden as part of Georgina's Nuffield Scholarship.