Factory farmed pigs - the facts
- Roughly 9 million pigs are slaughtered every year in the UK - about 1.5% of UK pigs are organic.
- 98% of UK pigs are fattened (finished) in sheds. 93% of growing pigs and 60% of mother pigs in the UK are kept indoors.
- Approximately 80% of UK pigs have their tails cut off (bored and unhappy pigs shut up in sheds will bite the tails of the pigs they are confined with).
- Around 55% of sows in the UK give birth while confined in crates, which they remain in until their litter is weaned. At least 35% of pigs reared for meat in the UK are kept in barren systems without any straw bedding.
- The largest existing pig factory in the UK that we know about has 1,100 sows.
- The average size of large-scale intensive pig farms in the UK is around 500–900 sows. The average pig herd size for all farms in the UK is around 75 sows.
- Approximately 92% of pigs are kept on 1,400 pig farms and the rest on some 10,000 small holdings and smaller and mixed farms.
Threat to animal welfare
The future of British pig farming may be about to change - and pigs will pay the price with their welfare if it does. Industrial-scale farms will feature huge numbers of animals, with little or no access to open fields.
Disease, injury and premature death
Our powerful scientific evidence shows that the incidence of a number of serious diseases, including salmonella, could increase when large numbers of pigs are kept together indoors.
Large scale intensive pig factories give reason to be concerned about the build up of antibiotic resistance genes in pigs and pork, local wildlife, soil and pig workers, and potentially everyone living locally to them, due to the frequent use of antibiotics in pig feed to control a wide range of conditions on intensive farms. Approximately half of all antibiotics in the UK are prescribed by vets (of which around 45% are used on farms and approximately 5% are given to pets). Approximately 60% of all antibiotics used on farms are given to pigs. All but one of these are the same as, or closely related to, medically important antibiotics used in human medicine.
Recently evidence has emerged to show that resistance to antibiotics can transfer between both animals and humans and that this occurs more frequently, and with far greater ease, than was previously believed. A number of very serious new types of antibiotic resistance have developed in recent years and several of these are increasing in farm animals.
Pigs belong outside
Industrialising British pig production will keep many more pigs out of fields and in factory farms. Not only does keeping them in sheds inhibit their natural behaviour, it also highlights the way in which our food and farming systems have become increasingly divorced from what nature intended.
Pigs are highly sociable creatures and prosper when living in small, stable groups. They thrive on contact with each other and have a complex language of grunts and squeaks, which scientists say they can interpret. Scientists have even detected regional variations in pigs’ grunts. They sleep together huddled in nests and greet other pigs by rubbing noses much in the way we would shake hands. Pigs are highly co-operative in social groups and show affection by grooming each other. Pigs are the most intelligent of farm animals, and tests have been carried out that prove that pigs can be trained to do more than dogs.
Soil Association organic pigs spend all or almost all of their lives out of doors, never have their tails cut off, and are free to root and dig in the soil. Organic mother pigs (sows) are never confined in metal crates or on bare concrete floors when they give birth.
Organic pigs live completely different lives from non-organic pigs, but as a result they cost more to rear. Organic pigs always have lots of room to move about, and are moved regularly to clean ground so they can dig and root in fresh earth - they need lots of space compared to a shed, and moving the pigs and their mobile houses around takes more labour. Piglets stay with their mothers longer, which gives the piglets greater natural vitality and causes them and their mothers less stress, but the mothers have longer between litters, and produce fewer piglets each year as a result.
Organic pigs eat organically grown crops which use no chemicals, but cost more, and unlike almost all non-organic pigs, they have no GM crops in their diet. Because they are able to run around and root, organic pigs take longer to get fat, and often organic farmers use slower growing (better tasting) traditional breeds that live longer (costing more to feed) before they are killed.
Find out more