A number of Members of Parliament (MPs) have called on the UK government to ban farms from keeping female pigs (sows) in cages after giving birth.
They signed a “Mother’s Day card” that was presented to the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) on Wednesday (March 15). The card was addressed to environment secretary Thérèse Coffey. It read: “In the UK every year, around 200,000 pregnant and mother pigs are confined to farrowing crates for up to five weeks, several times a year. Unable to turn around or fully interact with their newborn piglets, these intelligent and sensitive animals are the forgotten mothers on Mother’s Day.”
The card went on to point out that Defra promised to review the use of farrowing crates two years ago. However, it is yet to follow through.
The Crate Escape campaign
The action was part of a joint campaign from the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, Humane Society International/UK, and Compassion In World Farming. Dubbed “The Crate Escape,” the organizations are urging the government to ban farrowing crates and support farmers with the cost of transitioning away from them. Mark Francois, Conservative MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, hosted a parliamentary reception for the campaign on Wednesday.
MPs from across the political spectrum signed the card. They include Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Labour MP for Streatham), Kirsten Oswald (SNP MP for East Renfrewshire), Caroline Lucas (Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion), and Anna Firth (Conservative MP for Southend West).
A number of celebrities also put their names down. This includes actors Joanna Lumley and Peter Egan, as well as TV presenter Kirsty Gallacher.
The cruelty of farrowing crates
Around two-thirds of pigs in the UK are factory farmed, and these cages are routinely used and accepted under Red Tractor standards. Breeding sows will generally be kept in them for almost a quarter of their adult breeding lives.
The farming industry claims that the crates are intended to reduce piglet mortality. But statistics show that there is actually reduced mortality in cage-free systems. Animal campaigners have long claimed that farmers use cages for economic reasons, as they allow them to keep more pigs in a smaller space.
Dr Steven McCulloch is a veterinary surgeon and animal welfare specialist at the University of Winchester. He also worked on the Crate Escape campaign. McCulloch described the piglet mortality justification as a “smoke-screen.”
“In the UK, outdoor pig farms, which do not use crates, have lower levels of piglet mortality, compared to indoor farms that use crates,” he said. “Switzerland and Norway have banned crates, and both have lower piglet mortality levels compared to the UK.”
Public opinion on farrowing crates
Despite farrowing crates being commonplace in the UK, studies indicate that most of the public don’t know they exist.
According to polling data from March 2023, almost two-thirds (63.13 percent) of people said that they had not heard of farrowing crates.
After being asked this question, the people responding to the survey were given information on what they were and how they were used. Following this, less than one in five people said that they support them. And, more than double that number (48.22 percent) opposed their use.
According to the poll, over half (51.06 percent) of Brits would support a ban. Meanwhile, just 15.5 percent would oppose one.