Defra publishes new pig welfare code

Defra has today published a new welfare code for pigs that delivers updated guidance to pig producers on how to practise the highest standards of animal welfare.

The new code, which has been developed in consultation with industry bodies, including the NPA and Pig Veterinary Society, was published in parliament just before it was ‘prorogued’ on Monday.

The new Code can be viewed here

The standards, which Defra described as ‘comprehensive’, set out enhanced guidance in a number of areas, including:

  • Improved practices on how to prevent tail biting, avoiding the need to routinely dock pigs’ tails.
  • Detailed advice to pig producers on biosecurity, contingency planning, and antibiotic use
  • Guidance on how to assess the health and welfare of pigs
  • Advice on farrowing, to protect the welfare of both sows and piglets.

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.

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.

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.”

NPA reaction 

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.”

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.