The slaughter and killing of animals

Position on Castration of Piglets

About 100 million male pigs are castrated in the EU every year, most of the time through surgical methods
without anaesthesia and analgesia, raising major welfare concerns. Castration without anaesthesia is
always a painful and stressful procedure even if pain killers are used before or after the surgical act, and is
not acceptable from an animal welfare point of view.
Concerns does, however, also exist in cases where male animals are left intact. The husbandry of entire
can lead to increased aggression and “riding” or mounting by dominant or sexually active boars.
The main reason to castrate male pigs is to ensure that pork meat is free from boar taint, an unpleasant
odour and flavour that some consumers can detect when meat is heated or cooked , i.e. in the pan.
Recent developments on the issue of pig castration include: routine use of anaesthetics or/and analgesics,
authorisation for the placing on the EU market of Improvac, a vaccine used for immunocastration,
completion of the Pigcas project, Alcasde project, and studies on the feasibility of marketing entire male
animals. These developments must be taken into consideration, as well as the EFSA report on welfare
aspects of piglet castration (2004).
This document lays out Eurogroup for Animals’ position on existing methods of castration of piglets and
possible alternatives to this practice.
For every method we examine the negative and positive aspects, before exploring future solutions.


1.1 Castration without any anaesthesia
According to EU legislation castration without anaesthesia is authorised up to 7 days after birth, and
castration by tearing tissues is forbidden. Most of the time farmers castrate piglets themselves. But
sometimes, for practical reasons (such as bigger testicles, to ease work planning), they castrate piglets
without any anaesthesia/analgesia when the animals are older than 10 days. This is illegal.
Whatever the age, as stated in the EFSA report, castration causes stress to the animals during handling,
acute pain during the procedure, and pain, suffering and abnormal behaviour afterwards, lasting up to 5
days. Over the long term the prevalence of chronic inflammation such as pericarditis, pleurisy, pneumonia,
inflammation of the tail and inflammation of the feet is significantly higher in castrates, possibly linked to the
immuno-suppression effect of the surgery.
Eurogroup is strongly opposed to the castration of piglets without anaesthesia.
Eurogroup for Animals: Position on Pig Castration – May 2010

1.2 Castration under local anaesthesia and/or analgesia

Local anaesthesia of piglets prior to castration, in comparison with castration without anaesthesia, reduces
the sensation of pain and the stress response during castration. However the positive effect of local
anaesthesia with lidocaine on the well-being of the animal during the intervention is relatively limited.
Piglets are handled twice (once during the injection and then when undergoing castration), hereby
generating more stress. Moreover, injecting local anaesthetics into the testicles is likely to produce an
added pain response.
With regard to pain after castration, observations have shown the appearance of more pain-related
behaviours after castration under local anaesthetic than after unanaesthetised castration.
Use of analgesia before castration has very little effect on the reduction of pain. However painkillers used
after the intervention (such as the use of Meloxicam) seem to reduce pain-related behaviour.
According to legislation, when castration is performed after seven days of life, it has to be done under
anaesthesia and by a veterinarian only. In this case, analgesics have to be systematically used during a
prolonged period, under veterinary control.
As long as castration under local anaesthesia is still performed, it must be systematically followed by
prolonged administration of painkillers
, under veterinary supervision.
1.3 Castration under general anaesthesia
Dutch organic farmers have been castrating pigs under anaesthesia since 2007. The recently adopted EU
legislation on organic farming will make this compulsory for all organic pig farmers by 2012. In 2008 the
German pig producer Neuland also started to castrate piglets under anaesthesia. In the latter case general
anaesthesia by inhalation is used, employing the gas Isoflurane, in combination with analgesia to reduce
post operative pain, and under the control of a veterinary surgeon. In the Netherlands, a mixture of 70%
CO2 and 30% O2 is used to sedate the animals and its use is under the control of the farmer.
Deep anaesthesia has a clear positive impact on piglets’ welfare: animals are fully unconscious at the
moment of castration, their pain is fully alleviated, and if needed, other painful “treatments” can be
performed at the same time. However, disadvantages exist for the use of CO2, which is linked to a risk of
aversiveness and hyperventilation. The concentration of CO2 has to be strictly controlled and safety issues
exist. For example, excessive exposure to the gas could result in the death of the piglets.
Instead of inhaling anaesthetics, it is also possible to employ injectable anaesthetics such as ketamine,
tiletamine or association ketamine – xylazine. Only veterinarians can administer this kind of anaesthesia
which causes prolonged sedation, making the piglets more vulnerable to injury by the sow and preventing
them from suckling.
If correctly administered and followed by proper and prolonged analgesia, castration following
gaseous anaesthesia
(by for example making use of isoflurane) could be a temporarily acceptable
, pending a total ban on surgical castration.
Castration following the administering of injectable anaesthetics is acceptable only if special attention
is given to piglets during the recovery period.
6 rue des Patriotes – B - 1000 Brussels Tel : +32 (0)2 740 08 20 - Fax : +32 (0)2 740 08 29 Eurogroup for Animals: Position on Pig Castration – May 2010

1.4 Immunocastration
This method of vaccination to control boar taint has already been in use for up to 10 years in countries
such as Australia and New Zealand. The product used to carry out this procedure, Improvac, is now also
registered in the EU (since May 2009), and can be used for commercial purposes. However there is
concern that some European consumers might wrongly believe that pigs injected with this product have not
received a vaccine but in fact hormones that could cause infertility, and thus refrain from consuming these
pork products. However this concern is not supported by recent consumer research.
Despite a better feed conversion rate noted in immunocastrated animals, some producers are reluctant to
use the vaccine, fearing the possibility of accidental self-injection and the subsequent risk of infertility. The
security system designed for the syringe, however, ensures the odds of such an incident occuring are
extremely low. As a consequence, more information is needed for producers.
Although local reactions are possible at the injection site, the principal positive aspect in favour of using this
vaccine is the absence of painful handling or mutilation. However, the animals still need to be manipulated
twice as two injections of the vaccine are needed. The first injection usually takes place between 8 to 10
weeks and the second 4 to 6 weeks before slaughter.
Research shows that immunocastration significantly reduces aggressive behaviour. Nevertheless another
aspect to consider is linked to husbandry practices in some countries, such as Italy.
When pigs are slaughtered at a heavy weight ( > 160 kg) in Italy, the time between the two vaccines may
allow heavier male pigs the opportunity to express increased aggression and mounting behaviour.
However, in the vast majority of countries, this would not be the case, as pigs are slaughtered at a lower
Immunocastration could thus represent an acceptable temporary solution pending a total ban on surgical
castration. Further research is needed for countries like Italy where the slaughter live weight is higher.
Pending a total ban on surgical castration, immunocastration could be an acceptable temporary solution.
In some countries carcasses presented with testicles are given a lower value, even if coming from animals
that have been immunocastrated. This practice must be changed as it is a disincentive for producers.
Efforts must also be made to ensure that consumers are properly informed about the mode of operation of
the product so that consumers have no reason to believe that immunocastrated pigs have received
hormones, when in fact they have only been given a vaccine.

1.5 Chemical castration
So far no chemical technique of castration has shown acceptable results. In light of the experience gained
with dogs, it is doubtful that an efficient method without welfare disadvantages could be developed.

6 rue des Patriotes – B - 1000 Brussels Tel : +32 (0)2 740 08 20 - Fax : +32 (0)2 740 08 29 Eurogroup for Animals: Position on Pig Castration – May 2010


2.1 Entire males production
In some countries, like the UK or Ireland, only entire males or females are presented to the
slaughterhouse. This is also usually the case in Spain and Portugal. This is due to a general acceptance by
all stakeholders in those countries and an average slaughter live weight between 85 and 100 kg. In all
other countries, pigs are commonly slaughtered when their live weight is over 100 kg, thus after reaching
sexual maturity. Such practices increase the risk of development of an unpleasant odour or flavour, called
“boar taint” when meat originating from entire animals is cooked or heated. As males are, by far, the main
sources of those problems, the possibility of the appearance of boar taint is the main reason why they are
castrated. However, some recent studieshave shown that the risk of tainted meat being detected by the
consumer has been overestimated.
Moreover, some management practices could considerably minimise the problem and at the same time
reduce the risk of aggression in entire males. Such techniques include modifying feeding practices by for
example providing fibre rich feedstuffs like chicory or lupine, providing an adequate supply of water,
providing adequate space, giving the animals opportunities to wallow other than in excreta, and a thick
layer of complex natural enrichment material, sufficient to act as bedding, covering the majority of the floor
area of the pen. The size of the groups in which males are kept is also an important factor but further
research is still needed to know which size is the more appropriate to prevent the problem.
Exposure to sufficient amounts of daylight, by providing regular outdoor access, will help to prevent the
early onset of sexual maturity.
Wherever the market requires pigmeat with low levels of boar taint, this should be achieved by such
methods as rearing entire males to lower slaughter weights to minimise boar taint without the need for
castration, or by implementing different management practices.
Electronic methods for detecting boar taint in carcasses already exist. They must be further developed
and harmonised to facilitate easy and rapid identification of tainted carcasses. These should be put into
use in abattoirs as soon as they are ready. Meanwhile, manual means of detecting boar taint such as the
“hot-wire” test should also be used.
2.2 Sperm sorting

This method is not currently considered feasible. However it is clear that the development of sperm-sorting
technology could allow the use of sexed semen for the predominant production of female pigs.
It is likely that this technique will never be 100% effective, thus an acceptable system for dealing with male
pigs will still be required.
New insemination methods will also be needed and the consequences of them on the health and welfare of
inseminated sows should be evaluated. Such technology is not applicable where natural insemination is
practiced, so other alternatives will still be required.

Sperm sorting represents a good solution for the long term but further research is needed to develop
appropriate techniques. At the moment priority should be given to researching other options.
6 rue des Patriotes – B - 1000 Brussels Tel : +32 (0)2 740 08 20 - Fax : +32 (0)2 740 08 29 Eurogroup for Animals: Position on Pig Castration – May 2010

Genetic selection
Genetic selection of males with reduced levels of boar taint and/or slightly later sexual development could allow entire males to be reared to higher slaughter weights without the problem of boar taint. Some recent research, notably by researchers at the Guelph University (Ontario) could possibly lead to commercial lines being available before the end of 2010.

In the long term, genetic selection is the most acceptable and feasible method for reducing boar taint
from an animal welfare perspective. Recent developments could make it a method of choice to be used
even in the medium term.

 Eurogroup is urging the European Commission to introduce a total ban on surgical castration as
soon as possible and in any case before 2015.  Pending this total ban the following measures must be taken:
o Surgical castration without anaesthesia must be prohibited.
o Surgical castration under local anaesthesia must not be encouraged. If practiced, it
must be systematically followed by prolonged administration of painkillers under veterinary supervision.  Surgical castration should be carried out only under general anaesthesia and followed by the
prolonged use of analgesia, under veterinary control. If an injectable anaesthesic is used, special
attention must be given to the piglets during the recovery period.
o As a temporary alternative, immunocastration is an acceptable method.
 The production of entire males is the best alternative, and this method could be implemented
even in the short/medium term. To facilitate transition to to this animal welfare friendly option, further research and development are however needed into the following subjects: o Exploring the feasibility of slaughter at a lower weight
o Developing housing and management methods to minimise risks of boar taint
o Developing and implementing genetic selection of male lines less susceptible of producing
o boar taint and showing less aggressive behaviour
o Developing and harmonising methods of detecting boar taint on the slaughter line
o Developing pork processing techniques capable of masking boar taint in the final product
 Further development and research on sperm sorting techniques, and their possible welfare
implications, is needed, but is not a priority. 1 PIGCAS Attitudes, practices and state of the art regarding piglet castration in Europe January 2007- January 2009 2 Welfare aspects of the castration of piglets, EFSA report July 2004 3 Directive 91/630/EEC amended by Commission Directive 2001/93/EC 4 Animal Science Group, Castration under anaesthesia/analgesia in commercial pig production, December 2007 5 Wageningen UR Removing the taint LEI report 2008-027 6 rue des Patriotes – B - 1000 Brussels Tel : +32 (0)2 740 08 20 - Fax : +32 (0)2 740 08 29



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