Together with my husband and son I have an integrated farm with pigs, arable farming and biogasproduction in the northern part of Holland. We have grouphousing for 320 sows on straw since 2000 and since 1995 we raise boars. I am the chairman of the Pig Farmers from the Dutch farmer’s organization LTO and vice-chair of the Product board of livestock and meat, PVV.
Pig castration seems to be quite an important issue for you. Why is that?
It is an important issue. In our farm we don’t castrate anymore since 1995, it works, but it is different. Important is the acceptance of entire males by the market. In Holland we made a quick move to non-castration because the retailers asked for this. If there is market acceptance and with a good detection at the slaughter line there are only winners on this issue.
As a farmer, what are the inconveniences of Pig castration?
Pig castration is unpleasant for the farmer, for the pigs there is more risk on infections and pain. Without castration the pigs perform better.
What do you think about the existing alternatives to surgical castration?
The main existing alternatives are producing entire males and immune vaccination. I do consider producing entire male pigs as the best option, both from the viewpoint of the farmer and that of the pig. The integrity of the animal is respected, the farmer does not have to perform the unpleasant job of castrating, health risks are lower and the economic results are better. Important, however, is that the farmer applies appropriate management to prevent excessive aggressive behaviour. My personal experience for over ten years raising boars is that this is quite possible.
What is the situation in the Netherlands on the topic?
In the Netherlands the retail market and food service market (with one or two exceptions) do only market meat from entire male pigs for more than a year by now. Retailers are satisfied because they have no discussions anymore on this issue, and are gaining from a better reputation on animal welfare.
How are you engaged at the National level to reach the end of the castration of male piglets?
I am chair of the Dutch National Research Programme on producing and marketing entire male pigs. This is a five year programme that is jointly financed by the government and the industry together with the Product Board of Livestock and Meat (PVV).
In this programme researchers, farmers, slaughterhouses and retail closely work together to solve the diverse issues that we face during the transition to stop castration. The total budget equals 5 million euro over a period of 5 years, allowing us to make some real progress and gain insights in the do’s and don’ts of boar raising. The programme is a follow up of the so-called Noordwijk Declaration of November 2007 in which the whole Dutch pork supply chain decided to put an end to castration ultimately 2015.
Is there any work for you at the European level?
The European Level is very important for us, because the EU market is one. The acceptance of meat from entire males in whole Europe is a very important issue for us. We also talk to Eurogroup for Animals, I also am in contact with the European Commission and of course my colleague farmers in Europe. I talk to them, tell them what we are doing in Holland and we exchange views. It is very important to learn from each other.
Why would you need collaboration from an NGO as Eurogroup for Animals, and what would you advise us to do at the EU level and at the national level to join you best in your efforts?
NGO’s like Eurogroup for Animals are crucial. They can keep the issue on the agenda and put pressure on retail and food service. NGO’s should proactively ask companies how they take their responsibility: What are companies doing, are they conducting pilots, do they actively seek for information on the latest research results? Companies really do respond to NGO activities. Their reputation is an important asset for them.
As one of the key stakeholders in the pig’s market, what would you advise our members to do when contacting farmers and retailers?
NGO should cooperate more with farmers on this issue. When one goes alone one can think to go faster in the beginning, but together we can make more progress in the end. We have a common goal. For us, animal welfare is also important. Farmers need NGO’s to put pressure on food companies. NGO’s should name and fame those who do the right thing, and name and shame those who don’t.
NGO’s should go asking companies what they are doing to help improving animal welfare. And also ask companies whether they do involve themselves in research pilots to solving these issues.