Skip to main content
Food Safety

Pig welfare

The welfare of pigs is assured by Council Directive 2008/120/EC.

It applies to all categories of pig and lays down minimum standards for their protection:

  • Improving the quality of the flooring surfaces

  • Increasing the living space available for sows and gilts

  • Introducing higher level of training and competence on welfare issues for personnel

  • Setting requirements for light and maximum noise levels

  • Providing permanent access to fresh water and to materials for rooting and playing

  • Setting a minimum weaning age of four weeks

Pregnant sows

In particular with effect from 1st January 2013, pregnant sows must be kept in groups instead of individual stalls during part of their pregnancy - a major improvement for the welfare of sows in the EU.

Indeed apart from some exceptions (farrowing sows and boars) all pigs are to be raised in groups and must be provided with permanent access to drinking water and food of appropriate quality at regular intervals.

They must also have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of enrichment materials that does not compromise their health and enables them to carry out proper investigation and manipulation activities and fulfil their behavioural needs.

Please refer to the EFSA website for their scientific opinions on the welfare aspects of pig farming and to the EURCAW–Pigs for their scientific output, factsheets and trainings.

Preventing tail docking

Tail docking of piglets is used to avoid the damages and pain caused by tail-biting between pigs. This behaviour is a sign of boredom or stress caused by inadequate environmental conditions and management practices. Tail docking should only be done if assessment of tail biting risks and application of improvement measures have not led to a sufficient reduction of tail biting.

Routine tail docking is forbidden according to Council Directive 2008/120/EC. To tackle this issue and help the pig sector in transitioning away from this practice, the Commission developed several activities and compliance tools, including educational materials about enrichment materials and best practices, and videos showing examples of farms with pigs reared with intact tails.

The Commission also performed audits and requested Members States action plans to phase out routine tail docking.

Alternatives to surgical castration of pigs

Surgical castration is practiced for centuries to remove an unpleasant odour from pork known as 'boar taint' and to prevent undesired sexual and aggressive behaviour in pigs. This practice has raised significant animal welfare concern in recent years. Scientific evidence proves that this surgical procedure inflicts pain, even on very young pigs.

The Commission developed educational materials for stakeholders to help them transition away from surgical castration of pigs by presenting the best practices in raising entire males or vaccinating pigs and to promote using the products derived from these pigs.

Related links

Further information