Sow Stalls may still be in use in EU farms.
Although the use of farrowing crates may well have been banned throughout the EU in 2008, there are some worrying reports that their use is being continued in up to 13 of the 28 member states.
In 2007, global discussion regarding the banning of sow stalls reached the forefront, when American professor Temple Grandin stated that keeping pigs in gestation was akin to ‘asking a sow to live in an airline seat’.
This caused outrage in the industrial pork keeping market. They argued that the use of sow stalls was integral to the welfare of the pigs. After a sow has been inseminated, she enters a more aggressive mode of behaviour begins competing for food. This occurs more frequently amongst pigs from different litters and can often lead to increased aggression and fighting. The leaders of the pork industry maintained that keeping the animals in separate cages eliminated the risk of them harming each other and allowed them to gain as much nutrition as they needed.
Initially, anti-sow stall lobbyists had a difficult time convincing the world that the use of farrow cages were detrimental to the health of pigs. Contradictory reports were written during the 00s. Whilst academics, such as Gradin, effectively put forward an argument of practicality, the American Veterinary Medical Association disagreed, promoting “gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy”. This backed up previous research undertaken by the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, taken in 2001.
Off the back of these reports, the United States have lagged behind in Animal Welfare for a number of years now. To this day there are roughly 5.3 million breeding sows kept in the US, with the majority of them being kept in ‘gestation crates’. Despite significant research into the psychological effects of sow stalls, only 9 states within the US have made the move to ban their use. Several studies have identified certain groups of stereotypical behaviours that suggest boredom and trauma. Bar-biting, tongue rolling and head-weaving are all behaviours that exist in ‘factory farmed’ pigs alone. These repetitive actions cause the animal harm, in the form of sores and skin lesions.
In addition to this, pigs kept in confined conditions also exhibited behaviour that points towards a development of ‘learned helplessness’. Pigs that had been kept in sow-stalls for their gestation period were reported to no longer react to physical stimuli (such as prodding or splashing with water), suggesting that they had psychologically ‘given in’ to their surroundings.
Successful campaigning has led to many major food companies across the world, including corporate giant McDonald and Smithfield Foods (owner of 187 piggeries in the US), phasing out the use of sow-stalls – yet there is still more work that needs to be done in Europe.