Industry and government must help producers prepare for new German castration ban, pig vet says


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With new legislation in Germany banning castration without full anesthesia starting in 2021, the time for producers to make changes is now, a swine veterinarian says.

According to Niels Wuyts, DVM, technical director for swine at Zoetis, the new legislation — passed in December 2018 — represents the biggest step to date in the EU’s move to end piglet castration. Whereas other countries in the block have passed laws to reduce pain related to castration, Germany’s law aims to eliminate pain, which Wuyts describes as a “small word difference but one that makes a big difference in reality.”

That reality is that starting January 1, 2021, producers in Germany will have three options for male pigs: raising intact boars, vaccinating against boar taint (sometimes called immunological castration) or surgical castration with full anesthesia and analgesia. Castration without full anesthesia will no longer be allowed.

With no possibility of extending the deadline for adopting castration alternatives, farmers must act now to ensure they are prepared for when the new legislation takes effect, Wuyts told Pig Health Today at a PROHEALTH event in Belgium. However, he added, government and industry must do their part to educate farmers about their options, so they can make informed and sustainable choices for their businesses.

“Farmers…have to be better informed on what these changes entail for them,” he said.

“In the next two years, they will have to make their decisions; that means right now they will have to think about which alternative measures they adopt. It’s up to the industry [and] the government…to help farmers with education programs so they can make an educated choice on where they want to go with production.”

Staying competitive

For farmers in Germany, adopting castration alternatives is a matter not only of legal and regulatory compliance but also of staying competitive in a global pork market that is increasingly moving away from castration, Wuyts said.

“Not changing is not an option for them…because the rest of the world is also changing,” he stressed, noting that the UK and Australia have not castrated for years, while many countries — including the US, Brazil, Thailand, Russia, Poland and Spain — continue to embrace alternatives.

“It would be wrong to deny German producers…the tools to stay competitive with other farmers who have already made their choice.”

Emphasizing the need to support farmers as they adapt to new technologies, research, regulations and consumer trends, Wuyts added, “We should not forget that pig farmers have so much to do at the moment…there’s welfare, there’s hygiene and still they have to be competitive with the rest of the world’s production.

“So all the technology is nice, but there are always tradeoffs, and what’s needed for the farmer…is to find for himself a sustainable choice…so he can make a living out of it and be happy.”


Making castration alternatives sustainable

Although castration alternatives must be adopted at the farm level, support from throughout the supply chain is needed to ensure these changes are sustainable, from farm to fork. Here’s how two German retailers are encouraging producers to make the switch:

  • Edeka Südwest, a major retailer in Southern Germany, is committed to promoting animal welfare while protecting the livelihoods of small pig farmers in the region. Following a period of positive experiences with pigs vaccinated against boar taint for its high-welfare “Gutfleisch” label, Edeka Südwest is now calling for more farmers to adopt the castration alternative. To aid farmers with the transition to this new production tool, the retailer is offering a sponsor agreement worth €4 for each pig given the boar-taint vaccine.
  • REWE, another German retailer, has also had success with the castration alternative. Since 2017, REWE Bio (the retailer’s organic, high-welfare label), via its organic pork supplier, Naturland, has only sourced meat from male pigs that were raised entire, vaccinated against boar taint or castrated with analgesia and full anesthesia. In a recent statement, REWE and Naturland highlighted their positive experiences with boar-taint vaccination and called on conventional pork producers to use the alternative, saying it “works and is accepted by consumers,” while causing “the least disturbance” to animals.  To read the statement, click here.

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