Defra has outlined its position on tail docking, as pig producers increasingly find themselves being penalised for the practice.
Routine tail docking has been flagged up during a number of cross compliance inspections in recent months.
The case of a producer in the South West who was handed a 5% deduction to his BPS payment for this reason was raised at the latest NPA Producer Group meeting. He is not alone and the NPA understands that court proceedings have been threatened in some cases.
Pig Veterinary Society (PVS) president Duncan Berkshire told the group: “This is about routine tail docking without all measures possible to prevent tail-biting being evident in the pens, including the provision of manipulable materials.”
One of the concerns, he added, is that inspectors appear to be adopting different interpretations of how producers are addressing the issue, with some regional variation reported so far.
Asked to clarify its position, a Defra spokesperson said: “Routine tail docking is not permitted by law. Pig farmers need to demonstrate at inspections that tail docking has been used as a last resort after taking the necessary steps, as described in the current welfare codes, to reduce the risks of tail biting. This includes actions to improve the pigs’ environment and their management.
“We want to see full compliance and, to aid enforcement, we have consulted on a new statutory pig welfare code, and are currently analysing responses.”
“This will provide more detailed information on the different factors which can cause tail biting and good practice advice on how to prevent it and to avoid the need to dock pigs’ tails.”
The NPA is working actively to address the situation. It is working with other interested parties to develop a joint approach to deliver change and try and bring clarity to producers.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We advise producers to do all they can to assess what would need to be done before they could stop tail docking, and to record any evidence. But we need to work more closely with Government to manage the transition more carefully and sensibly.
“Our concern is that producers will be panicked into not tail docking when previously there was no tail biting problem and create a much worse situation.
“The NPA has just set up a tail docking working group consisting of Government, industry and academia to look at how we could work together more closely and develop a joint approach to reduce tail docking in the UK.
“This would seek to protect pig welfare, achieve meaningful culture change in the industry, develop a helpful advice and guidance/training package for pig producers and an agreed course of action, as well as identifying areas where we need further support.”