All posts by admin

The New Zealand High Court

The New Zealand High Court is reviewing whether the use of cages in pig farming is actually illegal under the Animal Welfare Act. It’s the first case of its kind in New Zealand and “the most significant animal welfare decision and case in a generation”, according to Marcelo Rodriguez Ferrere, a senior law lecturer at the University of Otago. 

Pig Farming

Worldwide, around 1.4 billion pigs are bred, raised and slaughtered every year, and the numbers are rising. Much of this phenomenal growth is in China, which rears around half of the world’s pigs. The other big players are the EU, North America, Vietnam and Brazil.

The vast majority of pigs are factory-farmed. All live truly miserable lives. If we did to our dogs what pig producers are legally allowed to do to pigs, we would be prosecuted for cruelty. We would receive hefty fines. We might go to prison.

A Change of Heart

Bob Comis had been raising animals for slaughter for 10 years but the process began to weigh on his conscience….

Despite knowing that his career and diet were socially acceptable, he felt pangs of intrinsic guilt. He wrote, “As a pig farmer, I live an unethical life shrouded in the justificatory trappings of social acceptance.” He went on to question, “How can you justify taking a life for gustatory pleasure?” This internal tension eventually led him to convert his pig farm into a vegetable farm and adopt a vegan lifestyle. His story is so compelling that a documentary titled “The Last Pig” was made about his experience. He has since continued speaking out for animal rights, including his article detailing the cruel reality of “humane slaughter.”

Read about other farmers who recognise farm animals as friends, not food.

Pigs are intelligent and naturally affectionate. Their physical resilience (like most animals) allow them to survive in the terrible conditions forced upon them in a typical factory farm, however emotionally they cope poorly. It is common to see sows behaving in a stereotypical manner, licking the bars of their iron stalls, moving their head from side to side for hours on end.

Pigs are sociable animals. They thrive in stable social groups which typically would consist of a few sows with their young. In natural conditions, they will range over hundreds of kilometres and spend much of their day foraging and rooting for food. They will make nests to sleep in and they will dig out wallows in the mud when they need to cool down. They will eat small animals if they can catch them, but mostly they will forage for leaves, grass, roots, fruits and flowers.

On a factory farm, the breeding sows are typically in solitary confinement in narrow crates (known as sow stalls). Essentially, they are metal cages. Sow stalls deprive pregnant sows of almost all their natural behaviours in that they cannot exercise, explore, forage or socialise. A factory-farmed sow will never see the light of day, apart from her last day, when she is transported to the slaughterhouse. Sow stalls are illegal in Sweden and in the UK and are being phased out in a number of countries, but there is a long way to go before we see the end of this cruel confinement.

On a factory farm, a heavily pregnant sow is moved to what is known as a farrowing crate (this is nothing more than a very small cage). Bars keep the sow out of the piglets’ lying area to prevent crushing. A sow in natural conditions will build a nest for her young, however this option is not available to her in a crate. Piglets are weaned and taken away from their mother when they are 3 to 4 weeks old.

There is no rest period for the over-worked sow on a factory farm. Within a couple of weeks of weaning, she is inseminated again, usually artificially, and she will begin a new pregnancy. She will typically give birth to 10 – 12 piglets approximately twice a year. She will be forced to breed in this intense, unnatural manner until she is about three years old, at which stage she will be ‘spent’ as a high-performance breeding sow and she will be sold for slaughter. Farrowing crates are illegal in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. They are widely used everywhere else.


On a factory farm, the pigs to be fattened for slaughter are raised in large groups in overcrowded pens, on concrete floors without bedding. They are often mutilated, having their tails docked and their teeth clipped or crushed. The latter procedure is to prevent the piglets from damaging their mother’s teats, while the former procedure is to eliminate the biting of other pigs’ tails. Both procedures are painful and are usually carried out without the use of anaesthetic. Because pigs are mixed with unfamiliar pigs, there is much conflict and stress. Most male piglets in Europe (not in the UK or in Ireland) are castrated shortly after birth. The scrotum is cut with a scalpel and the testes are pulled out and cut off. This is often carried out without the use of an anaesthetic.


Pigs are notoriously bad travellers, and they are especially vulnerable in hot and humid conditions, as they do not have sweat glands.


No animal reacts well to the slaughterhouse and pigs are no exception. In fact, they possibly suffer more than other animals on account of their heightened sensitivity to the slaughterhouse environment. It is not uncommon for pigs to die before they get to slaughter as a result of stress and trauma.


The total number of pigs in Ireland in June 2019 was estimated at 1,616,000 with 1,472,700 non-breeding pigs and 143,300 breeding pigs. The estimates are based on returns from the June 2019 Pig Survey which collects data on pig numbers held by specialised producers. Specialised pig farms, totalling 289, were included in the survey for June 2019, accounting for 88% of the estimated total pig population.
[CSO statistical release, 10 September 2019]

Over 99% of Ireland’s pigs are bred and reared in indoor, non-straw bedded, slatted or solid floor systems, often in units of over 1,000 pigs, with over 40% of the pig population living in units of over 10,000 animals.

According to the latest pig survey completed by the Department of Agriculture, 45% of total pig production in Ireland is accounted for by just 47 farms. The Landrace and the Large White are the dominant breed of pig in commercial production in Ireland.

Approximately 500,000 pigs are exported live every year from the Republic. The vast majority of these go to Northern Ireland for slaughter. Female pigs are exported live to Spain and to Italy for use as breeding sows.


There are alternatives to the intensive system of pig farming.

  • There is the higher welfare indoor system, where pigs are raised on solid floors with straw and other bedding material. The best of these systems allow for some degree of foraging and some degree of comfort.
  • There is the outdoor system, where there are no sow stalls or farrowing crates, where sows sleep in straw-filled huts, have access to an outdoor environment, and can act out natural behaviours such as nest building, rooting, wallowing and foraging. In most of these systems, the piglets are weaned and brought indoors to be raised indoors.
  • An extension of this system is where the piglets are born outside and spend half their lives (approximately three months) outside.
  • Finally, there’s the free-range system, where sows and their young live out their entire lives outdoors. The piglets typically spend up to eight weeks with their mother in these free-range and organic systems.

Swine flu occurs in people that are in contact with infected pigs. Symptoms are similar to that of regular human influenza and can include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

In 2009, the H1N1 swine flu pandemic killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people globally. African Swine Flu (ASF) is harmless to humans but in pigs and wild boar, the fatality rate is almost 100%.

Scientists have likened pigs to ‘mixing vessels’ for generating pandemic influenza viruses because they host both mammalian and avian flu viruses. When different strains of a virus occupy the same animal, they can swap genes to create new strains with the potential to infect new hosts. Research led by Honglei Sun at China Agricultural University (CAU) in Beijing has identified such a strain in pigs that has already begun to infect humans. Called G4, it incorporates genes from three distinct influenza strains:

  • a strain similar to viruses present in European and Asian birds
  • a North American strain that has genes from avian, human, and pig influenza viruses
  • the H1N1 strain that researchers first detected in the United States and that caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic

In the UK, the average sow produces 25.8 pigs a year. In the US that number rises to 26.4. But in Denmark, the world’s laboratory for industrial pig farming, the average sow produces 33.3 piglets – and some farmers manage to push that figure even higher. Some believe that one day they could reach the magic number of 50. These high performing sows do not last long. After delivering just three to four litters they are sent off in large numbers to the abattoir. Danish pig farmers discard some 500,000 sows every year, close to 50% of the population.


The number of pigs slaughtered worldwide in 2018 was


That’s 406,710 every day;
16,946 every hour;
282 every minute;
4.7 every second.

In the time it takes most people to say one billion, four-hundred-and-eighty-four million, four-hundred-and-ninety-two thousand, eight-hundred-and-forty-three, between 20 and 25 pigs will have been killed. It’s a chilling thought.

  • New rules, announced in July 2020, give German pig producers eight years to remove insemination stalls and fifteen years to replace farrowing crates.
  • Outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) are surging in China following flooding in southern parts of the country. Farmers typically bury infected pigs, and the rains may have spread the disease via groundwater. 200 million or more pigs are thought to have been culled, slaughtered early or lost to the disease in China. [GUARDIAN MONTHLY FARM UPDATE, 14 Jul 2020]
  • Multi-level pig production facilities are becoming popular in China and may become the norm in other countries.
  • Chinese researchers have discovered a new type of swine flu that can infect humans and has the potential to cause a future pandemic, according to a study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The disease, which researchers called the G4 virus, is genetically descended from the H1N1 swine flu that caused a pandemic in 2009. G4 now shows ‘all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,’ said the study.

Pig Farming.. What You Can Do

To state the obvious, the best way to help pigs is to not eat them. There are plenty of vegan alternatives to meat and there’s lots more coming on the market every week. You will be one less pig meat consumer, and if there is one thing that the industry (producers and retailers) takes notice of, it is losing consumers/customers.

If you can’t stop eating pig meat, then the very least you must do is to buy organic. It’ll cost you more, but that’s a price you have to pay. There is no other way. In any case, the cost of mass-produced, factory-farmed meat is ludicrously cheap and does not reflect the significant welfare and environmental costs associated with these industries.

Speak out. Use your voice. Express your opinion. Talk to your family. Talk to your friends. Ask them to stop eating pigs. Talk to the manager of your local supermarket. Talk to the owner of your local restaurants and cafes. Tell them you are withdrawing your custom until they stop ordering meat that comes from the factory farm.

Lobby your local political representatives. Ring them up. Email them. Call to see them at their weekly clinic. Be polite, be insistent, be passionate. Don’t let them fob you off. Use your social media platforms to share posts from animal rights organisations.

Join an animal rights organisation (see LINKS on this website). If there isn’t a local campaigning group in your town or locality, ask one of the animal rights or animal welfare organisations if you can do some campaigning on their behalf. Most groups will be delighted to hear from you.

Finally, be resolute and be strong. The pigs have no voice (or none that we can hear). Let your compassionate, passionate voice be theirs!

Laying Hens

Chickens are highly social birds. They live together in a flock and within a distinct hierarchy, commonly referred to as a pecking order.

In the wild, chickens will spend much of their time scratching the ground in their search for insects and seeds. When a cockerel finds food, he often calls the rest of the flock to come and eat. He does this by clucking in a high pitch and picking up and dropping the food. Mother hens also exhibit this behaviour in summoning their chicks.

A Change of Heart

Caged Hen Experiences Freedom For The First Time..
After years in a tiny battery cage, this rescued hen can finally start living!

Wild chickens cover a lot of ground during the day. To avoid potential predators, they use trees and vegetation to maintain a low-visibility profile as they go about their daily business.

The wild ancestor of today’s chicken, the red junglefowl, produces around a dozen eggs each year. Through decades of selective breeding, laying hens have been bred to produce around 300 eggs a year. Such intense egg production causes calcium deficiency and can result in high levels of osteoporosis (brittle bones) and fractures.

The vast majority of the 50 billion chickens reared each year for their eggs and for their flesh never see the light of day. Their lives could not be further removed from that of their wild cousins.

The common system used in the egg production industry is the barren battery cage (banned throughout the EU in 2012). The birds are kept in small, wire cages, up to nine in a cage, the cages running along beside each other for the length of a 100 or 200-metre shed, and stacked on top of each other in a system which is designed to cram as many birds as possible into a rectangular space.

These barren battery cages afford each bird the equivalent of an A4 page to stand on. The hens cannot open their wings. Their beaks are cauterised to prevent self-harm and mutilation of other birds, with whom they are continuously fighting, due to the intensely stressful environment. They defecate through the sloping wire mesh floors and their feet become deformed as a result of standing on such an uncomfortable and unnatural surface for their entire lives. Most sheds contain tens of thousands of hens, and the largest sheds can ‘accommodate’ more than a hundred thousand birds. The buildings are artificially lit and ventilated. Caged hens do not leave their cages until they are taken to slaughter.

The current EU system, the so-called ‘Enriched Cage’, is only marginally larger than the old system. The enriched cages do allow hens to express more of their natural behaviours, such as perching, dustbathing, and nesting. The nest – if you can call it a nest – consists of a plastic sheet hanging from the top of the cage, which creates a more secluded area for egg laying.

In Enriched Cages, the hens still have their beaks cauterised. The perches are very low (just a few inches from the floor of the cage) so hens cannot fly up to a high perch to be safe from feather pecking. The system of sorting out the male from the female chicks at birth continues, and the males are still killed in massive numbers, either by crushing, by gassing, or by suffocation. The adult hens are still subjected to constant, controlled light to encourage greater egg production. They are still unceremoniously slaughtered at the end of their laying cycle, their reward for a lifetime of producing eggs.

Enriched Cages are not a solution. The solution is to ban cages, full stop. Luxembourg has banned the use of enriched cages for laying hens, and Austria and Germany are phasing them out.

Almost all hens, regardless of whether they are housed in the barren battery cage or the enriched cage, will continue to suffer from severe mineral and calcium depletion and many will either die from exhaustion in their cages or will suffer from broken bones as their brittle bodies are stuffed into crates to be transported to the slaughterhouse.

Inspection is problematic when there are several tiers of crowded cages. Consequently, injured birds housed in large sheds can often die unnoticed.

A survey by the European Food Safety Authority concluded that eggs produced in cages are more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella than those produced in cage-free systems.


Free-range systems are the most popular of the non-cage alternatives. Hens are housed in barns or aviaries and they have constant daytime access to an outside range with vegetation. In barn systems, hens are kept in sheds using the floor space only, but those with several levels of platforms or perches are called aviaries.

In Europe, the maximum stocking density is 9 hens per square metre. This allows the hens much greater freedom of movement than is possible in cage systems. They can stretch, flap their wings and fly. They can also perform other natural behaviours such as pecking, scratching and laying their eggs in a nest.

Organic systems also provide free-range access. Organic farms certified by the Soil Association, must provide additional space; each hen has a minimum of 10 square metres of outside space, and do not allow beak trimming. EU organic regulations limit stocking density inside the shed to 6 birds per square metre.


Free Range usually means that the birds have access to the outdoors. If it’s a small operation, that’s probably fine, however if it’s a bigger, commercial operation, the access may be very limited, and the quality of the outdoor environment can be completely inadequate.


Currently, there are approximately 3 million laying hens in Ireland, and about 1.9 million of these (54%) are caged. Under current EU legislation, all shell eggs must be labelled to show where the hens have been kept (in barns, cages, free range or organic farms). Egg producers and retailers are required to label their egg packaging which is displayed on the inside of all egg cartons. How a hen has lived and laid her eggs must be stamped. The number 3 is for caged hens, 2 is for barn-raised, 1 is for free range, and 0 is for organic.

The Irish government’s current animal welfare strategy states that all farmed animals should have a good quality of life and a life worth living. Clearly, housing hens in cages makes a mockery of this strategy.


The number of chickens worldwide has more than doubled since 1990. An estimated 50 billion chickens are slaughtered for food every year – a figure that excludes male chicks and unproductive hens killed in egg production.


That’s 136,986,300 every day;
5,707,760 every hour;
95,130 every minute;
1,585 every second.

In the time it takes most people to say ‘fifty billion sentient chickens’, between 3,000 and 4,000 chickens will have been killed. This is industrial-scale killing and is, frankly, a mind-blowing statistic. Every single one of these 50 billion birds is an individual animal, with its own unique DNA, its own unique personality.


The End the Cage Age initiative is the single biggest and most collaborative animal welfare campaign to be launched in this generation. Over 140 animal welfare organisations across Europe are participating.