Piglets are castrated to ease their management and reduce the risk of ‘boar taint’ in the meat (57). The non-anaesthetised castration of young boars (male pigs) is regarded as an infringement of the wellbeing and integrity of the animal. Partly for that reason, the issue of the castration of male piglets has grown in importance in the last decade (58).
Very few male piglets are castrated in the UK (only 1-2 per cent). Most of those will be chemically castrated. The RSPCA Assurance scheme does not allow surgical castration but will approve chemical castration, where Improvac is given to shrink the testes, provided justification is given. Ironically, the industry scheme, Red Tractor does not approve any castration.
The low percentage of castrated males is associated with slaughtering pigs for meat at a relatively young age, which reduces the risk of boar taint (30). However, the UK imports approximately half of its pig meat, and most male piglets that go on to produce pig meat for import to Britain are castrated (30).
Whilst it is no longer a common procedure in the UK, castration is widely practiced elsewhere in Europe and beyond. In 2011, at the invitation of the European Commission and the Belgian Presidency, several EU main stakeholders agreed on the European Declaration on Alternatives to Surgical Castration of Pigs. The main goal of this is to end the surgical castration of pigs from January 2018 by voluntary agreement. Under current EU legislation, minimum standards for the protection of pigs are provided by the Council Directive 2008/120/EC (59). The European Declaration was signed in December 2010. Until then it was estimated that out of the 250 million pigs reared in the EU, 125 million were male, and 79 per cent (100 million) of them were castrated without anaesthesia or analgesia (60).
According to the European Declaration, since January 2012 all castrated pigs should have been treated with prolonged analgesia and/or anaesthesia, and in it was information on the development of methods to phase out the surgical castration of pigs by 2018 (61).
The Defra Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Pigs states that castration is a mutilation that should be avoided wherever possible (62). Viva! holds that all mutilations, including castrations, should be prohibited for farmed animals.