Fri, May 12, 2017 - Page 4 News List

COA urged to end cramped sow stalls

FULL-TIME MOTHERS:Environmentalists condemned the harsh life of breeding sows. The council said new guidelines for animal welfare would be issued in the fall

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Pigs rest in gestation crates in an undated photograph.

Photo: CNA, provided by Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan

Animal rights advocates on Wednesday urged the government to completely ban the practice of confining female breeding pigs to sow stalls, or gestation crates, after they are mated or artificially inseminated, saying that the Council of Agriculture (COA) should set goals on when and how the inhumane treatment of pigs could be eliminated.

The Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) held a news conference in Taipei to highlight the plight of about 600,000 or so breeding sows in Taiwan on the eve of Mother’s Day, which falls on Sunday this year.

While women can move around freely and request maternity leave, sows are imprisoned in stalls throughout their pregnancy and are treated as permanent breeding machines, the society said.

EAST director Chen Yu-min (陳玉敏) said that pig farmers would lock breeding pigs in stalls and prepare them for artificial insemination when they turn seven months old and become sexually mature.

After becoming pregnant, the sows then spend the next four months being confined in stalls until just before they deliver their piglets, she said.

A sow stall is about 2m in length and about 0.6m in width, and is only big enough for a pig to stand and lie face down or one side, Chen said, adding that it has no room for pigs to move forward or backward, so that some sows even have to sleep in their own feces.

Breeding stalls are particularly brutal for bigger breeding sows, Chen said.

As they grow bigger during pregnancy, they not only experience the discomfort caused by their bodies pressed against the metal rails of stalls, but their skins can become irritated and swollen or even start to rot because of the constant friction between their skins the metal, she said.

A few days before they are about to give birth, pigs are relocated to farrowing crates to deliver piglets and nurse them, Chen said.

Movement is also restricted in these crates, she added.

“On average, breeding sows get pregnant 1.5 to 2.4 times per year and deliver eight to 12 piglets with each pregnancy. When their fertility starts to decrease, they are sent to the slaughterhouse. You can say their lives are spent between gestation crates and farrowing crates while giving birth continually to piglets in small and narrow places,” Chen said.

Data from the society showed that each Taiwanese on average consumes 38kg of pork per year, 90 percent of which comes from local pig farms. The nation has 7,609 pig farms, raising approximately 5.44 million pigs. About 600,000 of these are breeding sows.

Despite scientific studies showing that the use of breeding stalls affects pigs’ physical and mental health, only 10 pig farms have abandoned the practice, the data showed.

The society pointed to a 2009 study published by former Department of Animal Industry director Hsu Kuei-sen (許桂森), which showed that breeding pigs in Taiwan produce on average 14 pigs that can be sold, which is significantly lower than in the US (20 pigs) and Denmark (22 pigs).

At the same time, the cost of raising pigs is 1.7 times to 1.8 times higher in Taiwan than in the US or Canada, while the survival rates of growing-finishing pigs have been between 68 and 72 percent in recent years, which is also lower than the US (82 percent), Australia (81 percent) and Denmark (80 percent), the society said.

Global efforts to abolish or impose limits on the use of sow stalls since the 1980s have shown results, the society said, as Sweden abolished breeding stalls in 1988 and the UK banned the use of sow stalls in 1999, except seven days before delivery and the day that piglets wean from their mothers.

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