KLAIPEDA - They grunt, get horribly dirty, squeal as if being slain when they in fact are not, but from now on these creatures will be pampered and amused before they meet their grisly end anyway. What, or perhaps who, am I am talking about? The Lithuanian pig!
It is a part of the animal welfare policies the squealing swine and their wellbeing, not the issues plaguing the pork sector, that now make a splash in the media limelight.
Many pig farmers are vexed
With 100 foster homes and orphanages in the country struggling, Lithuanian farmers from 2013 must enact the new EU Pig Welfare Directive setting out a range of measures for improving the critters’ welfare. What already is a daily chore for a British or German swine farmer is still an eyebrow raiser and topic of anecdotes for many Lithuanians. And, sure, local pig raisers who, complying with the EU rules, now have to buy special toys for keeping their pigs in a cheerful mood.
“Who ever thought that one day I’d become my own pigs’ clown!” sighs Vytautas Janulevicius, a Lithuanian farmer who is among dozens pig owners razzed by the new EU directive.
The EU Pig Welfare Directive clearly lays out what kind of toys should be tossed into the curious four-legged creatures’ pens. And it even tells how often pig farmers ought to devote some of their precious time for a little “chit-chat,” and games with the squeaky grunters.
Seeing the stretched metallic chains that, when nudged, produce a melodic rattle and buzz, rubber balls, or fixed colorful sticks in the pens, only a very smart individual can tell the purpose of the never-seen-before-in-a-Lithuanian-pig-stall items.
Right, they are for cheering up the sows and piglets during an otherwise tedious day!
Toys can jack up the pork price!
The EU directive regulating swine welfare was passed in 2008, but with the uproar over it sweeping through, it has been enacted in the former Eastern bloc only from this year. “I fathom that the European Union is trying to apply to farming the most novel findings and treat animals more decently, which, frankly, has been a hardly heard of thing until recently in Lithuania. But bearing in mind those dozens of foster homes, shelters and orphanages that often need a whole lot more attention, all the fuss about the pigs’ good mood before they are slaughtered for the EU consumer table is a bit weird, to put it mildly,” Janulevicius said to The Baltic Times.
A pork price rise, following the stringent regulations on pig well-being, is perhaps inevitable, he says.
“Some of the tiniest pig balls cost up to 5-8 litas, when the larger dangling and rattling toys cost a few dozen litas. I estimate I’ll have to spend up to a thousand litas a year for the game stuff,” pondered the farmer, adding, “that is too much for a small-sized farm.”
Similar EU hen directive hiked egg prices
Kasparas Jurevicius, a farmer in the Jurbarkas region, concurs on a possible increase of pork prices, a result of the pig well-being rules.
“I have a 25,000 pig farm, one of the biggest around. Bearing in mind the littlest pig toy costs around 5 litas, I’ll have to shell out a hell of a lot of money for the squeakers. And sure, the toys will jerk the pork price up. That is exactly what happened last year when the European Union started enforcing stricter hen welfare regulations, which resulted in higher egg prices,” the Jurbarkas farmer noted.
To comply with the EU directive, the farmer, among other things, throws into the pens larger amounts of peat and sawdust. Having found that the costly stuff can be replaced with cans and plastic bottles, the cost-savvy pig grower decided to stick with the natural and, importantly, less pricey toys.
Not a new thing
But the animal welfare issue is far from being a new issue in old Europe. A European Commission welfare ruling stipulating that pigs must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of material to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities, such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost and peat, became law in the UK in January 2003. In 2005, the pig leisure enrichment program went into effect in Denmark.
And a few years later, it became law in Germany. By 2012, many of the EU old member states had pledged to comply with the EU Pig Welfare Directive, but it is said the process stalls in quite many of the countries.
The reason? Surprisingly, not because of the local pig farmers’ resistance to the regulations, but to the massive pork imports from the EU-directive disobeying member states, mostly in Eastern Europe, that glut the “pig-friendly” states’ meat eaters with cheap pork.
Many concerns over the policy
Now it is the Lithuanian swine’s turn for piggy happiness. Nevertheless, for some Lithuanian pig farmers, it is too hard to overstep their misconceptions and stereotypes about the critters that, in folksy sayings, are regarded to be the dumbest animals.
“Well, I am perhaps not in the position in counterargue the EU scientists and pig behavior researchers, who have devoted years of study to the pig mood thing. I just really disagree with the applicability of all that EU-recommended stuff across the European Union. For instance, I cannot grasp why sawdust and peat is advised for the pig cheering purpose. Every pig grower around can tell you that sawdust, saw-chips and peat clog the sewage pipes. Besides, the stuff jacks up considerably the quantity of the slime, which means its transportation costs go up,” noted Jurevicius.
Farmer booed over pig welfare doubts
And not only that. Some materials used in the toys for pigs can be harmful carriers of microtoxins and infectious microbes. “I’ve consulted a veterinary who shared my concerns that ‘through the toys,’ some serious pig diseases, even pig plaque virus, can be transmitted. For me it is quite obvious that the Pig Welfare Directive has been drawn up by someone who has nothing to do with pigs,” said the farmer.
At some pig grower get-together in the West, he acknowledged he tried to speak out against what he calls “a phony and unnecessary directive,” but his speech was met with boos.
“I’ve just found out that behind it stood fast food restaurants that need higher quality pork,” he told.
Phony fuss by buzz-loving media?
But Algis Baravykas, director of Lithuania’s Pig Grower Association (LPGA), tends to play down the pig raisers’ worries over the pig directive. “I got this hunch that many farmers like to grumble unreasonably, out of tradition. I feel like telling them: ‘C’mon, guys, is that your first day in the European Union? Haven’t you seen, or read at least, how these things are over the Western border? For those who take interest in swine farming, seek information on the subject and participate in agriculture or pig exhibitions abroad, this is not a new thing. I believe the fuss is being stoked by juicy story-thirsty media, not by 90 percent of the pig growers,” Baravykas said to The Baltic Times.
According to him, EU consumer purchasing power is high, which is among the main reasons why animal welfare matters to the Western Europeans. “We have to forget for ever those Soviet times, when pigs before the very end would be horrendously chased in their pens and enclosures, beaten, grasped and held onto by their ears, tails or snouts, dragged onto a truck, and with no space for a needle to fall through, carried to pig slaughter premises. That time has gone,” the association director noted.
Does holy water do any good?
“Well, let me draw a comparison here. I could find you a dozen people who believe that holy water does miracles. But, on the other hand, it won’t be very hard to find another dozen mockers of the effect of the water. So pretty much the same could be said of the toys for pigs,” Baravykas pointed out.
“There are plenty of studies on animal behavior - pigs included - that show the benefits both for the critter and its meat. I do not see a reason why I should doubt them.” In fact, he says, the key emphasis in the EU Pig Welfare Directive is not about the toys, but, as a matter of fact, of the sired sows.
“The Directive envisions that all sows four weeks after siring and one week before farrow must be held in more spacious pens, not one-sow little stalls. That is something that, appropriately complied with, will require extra investment, not toys about which some pig farmer laments too much,” the LPGA director stressed.
The EU directive as an eye-opener?
Baravykas says the exact number of Lithuanian pig farmers is unclear, but, according to the statistics, there are some 5,000 pig farms in the country. “But when it comes to really big Lithuanian-size swine farms, containing 1,000 pigs and over, I’d put the peg perhaps at 50 farms,” Baravykas said. “And they might be the hardest effected by the directive. But if we want to enjoy the bonuses of the common EU market, there’s no other choice than to make sure that the pig in the pen can enjoy the EU pig life. A stress-less and decent one,” he added.
While the cautiousness and sneers still shroud the pig happiness thing, the whispering out there is about the seemingly-silly-creatures-being-surprisingly-sly.
Again, thanks to the EU directive, some Lithuanian farmers learn that their grunters have some surprisingly evident intellectual abilities. “I’ve heard that for some pig farmers, who used to think of pigs as dumb creatures, their curiosity and recognition of those rattling, clattering and strumming things have been quite a discovery. The critters seem to understand many things,” Janulevicius admitted.
“However, to tell the truth, even the ones most amazed by the skills are more preoccupied with the pigs’ increased mobility and physical activity for another reason - the pigs will stay leaner, which will produce a bigger loss for the pig amuser at the end of the day.”