A warning that a new wave of EU welfare initiatives could damage the UK pig industry as much as the banning of sow stalls in the 1990s has been issued by the President of the Pig Veterinary Society. David Burch says that fully slatted floors in finishing pens could be banned completely in an effort to reduce tail-biting and therefore the need for tail-docking, considered an unnecessary mutilation. But he points out that this condition is not just associated with slatted floors but can occur in almost any system, including those that are straw based.
Currently over 80 per cent of UK pigs are tail-docked as a routine preventive measure following the results of a slaughterhouse survey which showed this can reduce the incidence of tail-biting by 66 per cent.
"I see a ban on fully-slatted floors as counter-productive and potentially damaging to the industry, akin to the way the UK industry was sabotaged by the banning of sow stalls in the 1990s," said Mr Burch. "Proper research for replacement systems must be carried out first, as all systems have their individual drawbacks."
There is also pressure to stop piglet castration in the EU, but it was reported at a recent COPA-COGECA (farmer groups) meeting that most countries wished to continue castration so that they could carry on supplying premium quality pork and bacon without 'off flavours' associated with boar taint.
He sees PMWS (post-weaning multisystemic wasting syndrome) as the single most damaging disease affecting the health of pigs in the UK and Europe and believes that delays in licensing vaccines, now readily available in North America, are compromising pig welfare.
"We have learnt to live with the chronic form of PMWS but still too many farms are suffering an additional five per cent mortality as well as poor health and productivity. "There are also potential human health considerations since the incidence of salmonellosis has been shown to be higher in affected herds."
PMWS is primarily associated with the porcine circovirus type 2 (PCV-2). In North America the acute form of the disease occurred in 2004 but within two years they have introduced four PCV-2 vaccines for sows and piglets.
Mr Burch, who runs Berkshire-based Octagon Services Ltd, and has particular expertise in registration and marketing of veterinary products said: "We have been waiting since 1999 for an effective vaccine and hope that the companies and regulators can co-operate rapidly to approve an effective piglet vaccine, both here and in the EU, as a matter of urgency."
He added that welfare was an emotive subject and there were many "politically-active participants" in the debate. In the old days it was called 'good animal husbandry' but unless the several new initiatives on the horizon were tempered with health and productivity considerations, he sees them having a damaging effect on the pig industry.
"The future of welfare research and development must include health and practical production issues in their assessment and application to prevent further damage to our industry. The urgent first step is to improve the health and welfare of our national herd by the control of PMWS."
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