Animal welfare on the dining table - The pork industry

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Pigs are incredibly social animals, they usually live in herds and show great loyalty and affection for their closest congeners. Females create a very strong bond with their piglets and when they give birth, they usually move away from the herd to build a nest where to keep their young isolated from the cold and danger. Scientific research shows that in natural conditions pigs are highly active, spending 75%(1) of their day rooting (turning the soil with their snout), foraging (searching for food) and exploring their environment.

By the time pigs became one of the animals with greater demand for human consumption, the pork industry has ignored these habits, so rooted in their instinct, with procedures that override any consideration for animal welfare or humane treatment in the pursuit of enhancing production.

The HSI Fact Sheet of 2013(2) concerning the impacts of pig factory farming on the environment, public health and society, affirms that currently factory farms are responsible for more than half of the global pig production, which has resulted in the transfer of large numbers of animals from pastures and outdoor grounds to confined spaces without grass nor vegetation to graze.

Similarly, due to the state of confinement in which the animals are kept and the impossibility for them to turn the soil - which has turned from soft ground to hard cement - pigs started biting the tails of their companions, causing injuries and diseases. In order to prevent such an occurrence, most farms have resorted to the practices of tail-docking (cutting of pigs’ tails), an operation which is routinely carried out on piglets, just a few months old, without anesthesia or any pain relief.

Other abnormal behaviors, such as stereotypical behaviors, is one of the major problems of animal welfare in pig farms. The term "stereotypy" refers to any sequence of movements that is repetitive, invariant and without apparent function, and it is especially common (in percentages ranging from 20 to 100%) in pregnant sows held tied or caged. The most common stereotype in such sows is biting the bars of the cage, in response to chronic hunger experienced in times of gestation(3).

The European Union has set the minimum standards for the protection of pigs in the Council Directive 2008/120/EC, demanding industries, among other aspects, that pigs have access to adequate light density at least 8 hours per day and sufficient ventilation, that they live in a clean, and dry space where they are allowed free movement, including the possibility to lie down, rest and stand up without difficulty, that they are fed at least once a day adequate proportions in accordance to their age and weight, that they are provided with environmental enrichment as to express their instinctive behaviors, such as straw for rooting. The Directive also clearly prohibits routine tail-docking without anesthesia and prolonged analgesia, and requires immediate veterinary attention for pigs showing signs of disease or injury(4).

Similarly, it notes that Member States must ensure that all gilts or gestation sows, receive enough food to satisfy their hunger and their need to chew(5).

Compassion in World Farming is a British organization that has gained great recognition for its work to end cruel practices on animals in the context of factory farming. With regard to pigs, in 2014 CIWF conducted a series of visits to 45 farms in different countries of the European Union, such as Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Ireland, Poland and the Czech Republic. The results of the investigation proved that none of the countries were complying with the standards of welfare and animal protection provided for by the Directive 2008/120/EC and other codes and relative internal laws of each country.

The undercover investigators who approached the farms found out that the conditions in which the majority of the pigs were living were deplorable. The animals showed scratches and bites, their tails were cut without anesthesia (breaching Section 8 of the General Terms of Chapter 1, Annex 1 of the Directive 2008/120/EC), they rooted among their own excrement, in the lack of a clean place to live and rest properly (not fulfilling subsection 1 of paragraph 3, General Conditions, Chapter 1, Annex 1 of the Directive). One of the investigators, who visited a factory farm in Spain, referring to the conditions of confinement in which pigs were kept, reports: “They would cower in the corner away from their companions, but were unable to escape from aggression. Others were walking around with football-sized abscesses dangling from their bodies”(6).

Other investigators who entered farms in Ireland found sick pigs abandoned on their own in the pens for veterinary care, awaiting death. The presence of pigs chewing on the bodies of other dead companions in their pens and the bins, at the entrance to the farm, filled to the brim with dead pigs of all ages, alarmed the visitors of CIFW. It is worth mentioning that 75% of the pork produced in this country is exported, and 30% of it is sent to England.

There is no doubt that the high demand for pork not only in Europe, but also in other parts of the world such as Latin America and the United States, has led pig farming to become one of the cruelest industries. Also the guarantee of the lowest costs to traders and consumers has contributed to extreme conditions not only for animals but also for humans who work in such farms, who face low wages, poor working conditions and even the deterioration of their physical and mental health due to the witnessing of the suffering of animals that are part of this mass production(7). Also the European Commission through the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General (DGSANCO)(8), referred to the conditions in which animals live on farms and, consequently, has devoted substantial efforts to inform consumers about having the option to choose products that include animal welfare policies in their production.

Although the picture seems daunting, it is possible to highlight the work of these and other organizations that have made political and social pressure to end or improve the conditions in which pigs are being kept in industries around the world. However, each and every one of us has the greatest transformation tool in his hands three times a day. By choosing alternatives to the consumption of pork, one person avoids death and cruel treatment of dozens of pigs per month. Animal welfare is on the table and you are responsible for putting it in practice!

So, today we share with you a recipe for seitan in caramelized onions, which becomes the perfect accompaniment to any meal for its tenderness and deliciousness!

Ingredients for two:

  • A package of seitan

  • A medium white onion

  • Two tablespoons of brown sugar (sugar cane)

  • A pinch of salt

  • A pinch of pepper

  • Olive oil or coconut oil

  • Vegetables to accompany.




  1. Cut the onions into thin slices and put in a pan with a little coconut oil or olive oil for 3 minutes. Then add brown sugar, salt and pepper and leave on stove.

  2. Add the seitan cut into pieces and simmer with the onions until they are brown.

  3. Remove from the stove and serve with vegetables (optional). Our recipe has a salad of lettuce, plum tomatoes, alfalfa sprouts and green peppers.

  4. Enjoy!


Maria Isabel Aristizabal Bustamante

COUNCIL DIRECTIVE of November 19, 1991 on the minimum standards for the protection of pigs (91/630/EEC). Consulted April 14, 2015
Humane and Society International: Hoja informativa del HSI, Impactos de la cría intensiva de Cerdos en el medio ambiente, la salud pública y la sociedad (2013). Consultado el 14 de Abril de 2015
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2009. The state of food and agriculture: livestock in the balance (Rome, Italy: FAO, p.27). Consulted on April 14, 2015

1- Stolba A. and Woodgush D.G.M., 1989, The behaviour of pigs in a semi-natural environment, Animal Protection 48: pp. 419-425, in Peterson S., 2012, European Legislation on the Welfare of Farmed Animals, CIWF, p. 8.
2- Humane and Society International: Hoja informativa del HSI, Impactos de la cría intensiva de Cerdos en el medio ambiente, la salud pública y la sociedad (2013). Consulted April on 14th
3- MANTECA, Xavier. Bienestar animal. Anaporc, 1999, vol. 188, p. 87-97.
4- Directive 2008/120/EC, Annex 1, Chapter 1, General Terms.
5- Directiva 2008/120/EC, Article 7, Number 7.
6- The eyewitness account of an investigator, Undercover in Spain’s Pig Farm, 2014.
7- HSI fact sheet: Impacts of intensive breeding pigs in the environment, public health and society.
8- Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General (DGSANCO)


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