Red Tractor poised for quantum leap in ethical pig production
Above: Pigs can talk, if we learn how to listen.
The English pig industry is planning a quantum leap in Red Tractor ethical pig production — by letting the pigs themselves show whether they are healthy and happy.
Rather than look at animal welfare through human eyes, the industry's 'Real Welfare' initiative will in effect listen to what the pigs have to say about their surroundings.
With the help of a team of specially trained pig vets, Real Welfare will be rolled out to most pig farms next year.
It will ensure that pigs on farms producing around 90 percent of English pigs are regularly checked for health and contentment.
Real Welfare is due to become part of Red Tractor assurance from April. Pig farmers will be consulted on the plan shortly. RSPCA will be introducing a similar scheme to its Freedom Food assurance scheme.
"Real Welfare is based on what the pig itself shows us, rather than the environment it is kept in," explained BPEX which has funded three-years of research on the scheme at the universities of Bristol and Newcastle.
The aim has been to apply scientific principles to animal welfare by checking the following key indicators of animal wellbeing:
- Tail lesions
- Body marks
- Environmental enrichment
- Hospital care.
Real Welfare assessments will be carried out by vets as part of independent Red Tractor assurance. The audits will be standardised so that pig producers can check their pig unit's performance against an anonymised industry-wide database.
The veterinary assessments will highlight any areas of weakness on a farm, helping producers to understand what actions they need to take to improve their standards of ethical pig production.
The Real Welfare initiative will impose extra cost, time and management responsibilities on English pig producers.
But it will cement the Red Tractor pigs scheme as the world's most advanced independently-audited whole-chain assurance scheme.
And it will ensure shoppers who choose the Red Tractor logo are buying bacon and pork from farms with high ethical standards.
Real Welfare measurements will replace anthropomorphism with science. They have been developed on over 100 farms by BPEX, following initial research by the universities of Bristol and Newcastle, and RSPCA.
Real Welfare training certificates will be provided for vets as proof of their competence to carry out the assessments.
Under the scheme a set number of pigs will be assessed on each pig unit every year. Pig producers will be able to opt for three or four annual visits by a vet.
- Where units have less than 300 finisher places, a total of 300 pigs will be assessed over a year.
- Where units have more than 900 finisher places, a total of 900 pigs will be assessed over the year.
- Where units have between 300 and 900 finisher places, a consistent proportion will be assessed. For instance on a 600-place unit, 600 pigs will be checked, either 200 pigs on three visits or 150 pigs on four visits.
The European Union has decided that Real Welfare-type audits should determine European animal welfare policies and legislation in the future.
But only England has carried out the necessary research and is ready to introduce Real Welfare on pig farms.
And few other countries have an infrastructure suitable for introducing such a scheme.
The implication, therefore, is that from next April ethical standards on English pig farms will start rising and will become demonstrably the best in the world.
Meat Trade News Daily Supporting British Pig Farmers
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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