European Union Council Directive 2008/120/EC of December 18 2008 set out the minimum standards for tail docking . Despite legislation on the books in the European Union (EU) it appears from a recent survey that the majority of pigs are still routinely tail-docked. In order to tail dock , the producers must get permission from their veterinarian that indicates that the tail docking is necessary. Most countries outside of the EU continue to tail dock but more and more we are seeing increased mandatory use of analgesics / anaesthetics.
The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), the European Association of Porcine Health Management (EAPHM) together with the European Commission carried out an online survey to investigate the situation regarding the practice of pig tail docking and the provision of enrichment material across 24 European countries. According to the study, fifty-seven (57) usable survey responses from 24 countries were received.
On average 77% (median=95%) of pigs are routinely tail-docked. Finland, Norway, Sweden,
Switzerland, however, have less than 5% of the pigs that are tail-docked. According to the respondents, 67% of pigs (median=76%) across the 24 EU countries surveyed are given suitable enrichment materials. Training of veterinary practitioners, their role in advising the producer and undertaking a risk assessment of tail biting were more positively valued in countries that stopped routine tail docking than in countries that had not stopped routine tail
docking. Interestingly, initiatives such as training from national authorities to encourage abandoning tail docking and routine recording of tail biting at the slaughterhouse were identified as two successful items to promote the raising of pigs with entire tails. Monitoring of tail biting lesions at slaughter are becoming more common in the EU.
In a few European countries such as Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland there is a raised awareness and education about risk factors to prevent tail biting. Some of the lessons learned in the countries that have reduced the number of pigs that must be tail docked can be shared with those countries that have not made as much progress.
Take Home Message
With only 67% of respondents providing adequate enrichment material there is certainly room for improvement in achieving the stated goals. There will be continued pressure on vets and producers to take their tail biting interventions to a logical conclusion before authorizing routine tail docking.
Before “Beating yourself up” on lack of success on stopping docking we should take note that even in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland there are farms that still need to continue to dock tails.
Submitted by Kevin Vilaca, DVM
Ref: Nancy De Briyne, Charlotte Berg, Thomas Blaha, Andreas Palzer and
Déborah Temple. Phasing out pig tail docking in the EU – present state,
challenges and possibilities. Porcine Health Management 2018, 4:27. https://