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New pig welfare code published in parliament

10th Sep 2019 / By Alistair Driver

Defra has laid before parliament the long-awaited welfare Code for pigs that delivers updated legal requirements and guidance to producers in a range of areas linked to the health and welfare of pigs.

The new Code, which was laid before parliament was ‘prorogued’ on Monday, has been developed in consultation with the NPA and other industry bodies as well as welfare NGO’s, before final sign off by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee.

The NPA and Pig Veterinary Society had a major input into the code, improving it in a number of areas, although some concerns do remain.

The new Code can be viewed here

The Code, which Defra described as ‘comprehensive’, is Defra’s interpretation of existing welfare legislation and is designed help keepers to maintain the standards required to comply with the relevant legislation. The Code sets out enhanced guidance in a number of areas, including:

  • Improved practices on how to prevent tail biting, with a focus on avoiding the need to dock pigs’ tails.
  • Detailed guidance on enrichment attributes and acceptable combinations that should be used.
  • Greater emphasis on record keeping, especially related to tail biting incidence, prevention measures and proactive action taken including a requirement to record light levels and monitor environmental gasses.
  • A statement regarding Defra’s intention to move towards a future where farrowing crates are no longer needed and advice on free farrowing pens.
  • Greater focus on correct handling procedures for pigs.

The Code aims to encourage all those who care for farm animals to adopt the highest standards of husbandry. “Without good stockmanship, animal welfare can never be adequately protected. If stock keepers follow this code it will help them to meet the necessary welfare standards,” it says.

“No matter how acceptable a system may be in principle, without competent, diligent stockmanship, the welfare of the animals cannot be adequately catered for.”

NPA view

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “Most of the points in this Code represent good common sense and should reflect what all pig keepers do on a daily basis. However, the direction of travel by policy makers has certainly been intimated for the future.

“The NPA has been in discussion for months with Defra over the new code and we are pleased that it has accepted a number of our recommendations to improve it from the original proposals, particularly around environmental gas and humidity level limits, casualty slaughter, enrichment classification and the adoption of more understanding around the complicated issues surrounding the causes of tail biting and its prevention.

“There remain some areas of concern, however, particularly as this is the first time Defra has publicly stated an intention to move away from farrowing crates in future. 

"Thankfully, we do have a good relationship with the Defra welfare policy team and they are acutely aware of the impact legislation banning the use of farrowing crates would have on our industry. We will continue discussions with them about how we can support those who wish to move to free farrowing in future without the need for an outright ban. 

“Overall, we endorse the core message that good stockmanship is at the heart of good pig welfare. Producers should now read The Code and ensure they follow it to the best of their ability.”

Defra Animal Welfare Minister Zac Goldsmith said: “As someone who has kept pigs throughout my life I am proud that the UK leads the way on improving animal welfare – whether that be the ban on keeping sows in close confinement stalls or our latest legislation to increase custodial sentences for animal cruelty.

“This new code sets out the highest standards on how to best keep pigs using the latest scientific and veterinary advice to safeguard and enhance welfare standards. I urge all farmers and those in industry to take full heed of it.

“Our country’s high animal welfare standards are something to be proud of and we will continuously work to ensure they are maintained and improved.”

About the code 

The welfare of farmed animals is protected by law and is further supported by statutory species-specific welfare codes.

The new code will also be used by enforcement bodies, including Animal and Plant Health Agency inspectors and local authorities, when investigating allegations of poor welfare to look at whether animal welfare standards are being met.

Although the code is for guidance purposes, it specifically states that not complying with the legislation quoted in the boxes within the Code is an offence and that in cases that go to court for prosecution, whether someone has met the requirements of the Code, or not, can be used to  help establish or disprove a person’s liability. 

The pig welfare code applies to England only, although devolved administrations will aim to align their new codes as closely as possible to Defra’s.

This is the third code to be updated, following the new meat-chicken and laying-hen codes which came into force in March and August 2018 respectively.

What happens next?

The Code will need to be presented for 40 consecutive sitting days of parliament. If the sitting of the house is interrupted at any point the clock re-sets to day 1 so this process has already been affected by prorogation. 

Also, if any MP raises a valid concern or objection to the Code during the sitting time, it will be removed and re-submitted for consultation until the matter is resolved. After the 40-day period, the Minister at Defra will then formally approve the Code and following 21 days it will come into force. 

This is expected to happen early next year.