Pearls before swine

Items of quality [meat] offered to those [consumers] who aren’t cultured enough to appreciate them [pigs].

Guideline 2008/120/EC

  1. Pigs have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of distracting material to improve the welfare of the animals.
  2. A chain alone is insufficient

The Council of the European union laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs.

The intensive meat industry is one of the most complex man-made-systems ever created. Nowadays we are creating more and more laws and guidelines to keep this ‘monster’ under controle. Together with input from society the government puts a lot of effort into creating laws to look after animal welfare, protect the environment and control food safety.

 

However, that is not the only thing our society cares about, in it’s role of consumer we are also very focused on the price, we want -and are used to eating lots of meat for a relatively cheap price. We can’t have both.

 

These obviously contradictory desires, those of enough legislation combined with the desire for a low meat price, are hard to explain. After all, humans belong to the most intelligent beings on earth.

 

So do pigs. Out of all the animals on earth, pigs are ranked at number 7th when it comes to their intelligence and their complex social behaviour.

The complex social lives of pigs makes them even stand closer to primates than dogs. Mother pigs have been found to sing to their piglets while they are nursing. Pigs can also excel at video games that would be hard for a young child, sometimes they even got better results than primates. Ironically, pigs are also one of the cleanest animals around. A pig will refuse to defecate anywhere near the area where he lives and eats when he is given a choice.

Lack of environmental stimulation enables the animal to behave normally. This often results in an apathetic state of mind. An apathetic pig shows a high level of behavioral passivity, accompanied by a lack of interest in the environment and a numb, depressed mood. This expresses itself through social withdrawal, prolonged sleeping, lying down and motionless sitting or standing for hours. The inability to cope with the overwhelming stress causes the pig to ‘shut down’. The depressed animals become victims of the other frustrated pigs from their group. Their frustration often results in other stress-related behavior such as cannibalism and tail-biting.

For a long time, a chain was the ‘toy of choice’. Because of limited funds, limited time to clean and produce, farmers used metal chains to give the pigs something to do. Ironicly, pigs themselfs also prefer the chain over balls, wood, bolts, bite blocks and other alternatives. The chains make sounds, they move in a funny way and, in contradiction to some alternatives, they remaind clean. Nevertheless, chains are by no means enough to provide these smart mammals with some kind of enrichment. However, it is typical human behaviour to think a pig would be happier with a ball than with a chain, only because in our point of view a ball is more of a toy than a chain.

Pigs in the modern meat industrie are totaly isolated from the outside world. It is a strange thing to realise that the Netherlands is home to more than 13 million pigs, with a population of only 17 million humans that is a huge amound of pigs. Especially when you realise that the mijority of that human population wil never see these animals.

To reduce the smell and the envirmental impact all modern stables need to be provited with so called ‘luchtreinigers’, these machines make sure that all the air and gasses that come out of these stables are as ‘clean’ as posible. It is the only way to keep as many pigs as we do today in a highly populated country as the Netherlands.

© Sabine Grootendorst, 2020