New welfare assessments for UK finisher pigs have been proposed to be included in the UK Red Tractor Assurance farm standards beginning in April 2013.

The Real Welfare initiative is expected to provide pig producers with a practical system that not only helps them keep improving pig welfare, but also provides the scientific evidence to demonstrate husbandry standards to customers. “For the first time, the English pig industry has scientifically robust welfare measures which assess what the pigs themselves are telling us, rather than just assessing the pen or environment they are in," said Dr. Nina Wainwright, welfare project coordinator at the British Pig Executive. “The Red Tractor proposal, currently open for consultation, is for vets to carry out the assessments as part of the quarterly vet review visits. Real Welfare uses the same methods for all units, whether indoors or outdoors, or on straw or slats.

“The industry’s extensive practical research, working with the Universities of Bristol and Newcastle, has narrowed it down to just five measures which we have proven to be useful — lameness, tail lesions, body marks, enrichment use and hospitalization.” 

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Rob Mercer, a pig producer who took part in the practical research, said that although there are costs involved, the husbandry improvements made can also improve production and therefore reduce costs. "I see the assessments as a good, simple way of viewing husbandry across all systems and as a good way of safeguarding our better-welfare brand of British pork,” he said.

Real Welfare puts the British pig industry in a good position to offer a single ‘welfare outcome’ measurement system, rather than individual retailers and food service companies developing their own different variations, which would add cost and complexity. It is also in line with the direction of EU strategy. The large-scale research and testing program undertaken over several years ensures the system is robust, and the implementation of Real Welfare will place the industry well ahead of other sectors and countries, say supporters.