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ENSURE YOUR PORKER IS HAPPY AS A PIG IN MUCK

 AURA SABADUS

09:00 - 30 January 2003
 
  
 
Pigsties are in for a radical makeover in the wake of a European ruling
which insists that pigs have to be kept happy.

But while porkers are destined for fun times ahead, farmers will have to
dig deep into their pockets if they decide to scoff at the edict.

For under the new "amusement" regulation from Brussels there is a stern
warning that failure to comply could lead to a #1,000 fine or three
months in jail.

The ruling, which is to become law in Britain next week, is aimed at
preventing bored pigs from chewing each other in concrete-only sties.

Brussels bureaucrats say pigs should have access to such delights as
straw, hay, wood, sawdust or peat. And British Government officials
suggest a pig's lot could be improved even more if balls or other toys
are included in the "environment enrichment" scheme.

But Westcountry farmers believe the move will not make a difference to
British pigs, as they already live in far more "humane conditions" than
their European counterparts.

Pig farmer Andrew Freemantle, from Exeter, explained: "Welfare standards
in British farming are very high. I very much doubt that our farmers
will use such toys because our animals don't live in cramped conditions.
British farming is far more humane."

Former Devon vet Dr Roger Mugford, who is now one of the country's
leading animal behaviourists, explained: "Many pigs are kept in cramped
housing conditions.

"In the past they were kept outside where they could forage and find
their own food.

"Because some farmers find it cheaper to keep animals on concrete slabs
rather than buy straw or bedding, they can't forage any more.

"Pigs are highly intelligent animals. They like to play and if they get
bored they start chewing each other.

"It is advisable they get smaller meals in less clean troughs because,
as I said, they like foraging."

Dr Mugford, who is best known to animal lovers for designing the Halti,
a special harness for dogs, is currently designing the rubber toys which
farmers will have to buy for their pigs.

"People might think this is a joke, but toys will make a difference to
the lives of pigs," he said.

Official instructions to farmers are to give pigs "environmental
enrichment" by providing "manipulable material" which the Department of
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs says could be defined as balls,
though there is no specific mention of toys in the EU directive.

A spokesman said: "We mean footballs and basketballs. Farmers may also
need to change the balls so the pigs don't get tired with the same one.
These rules are based on good welfare.

"We don't want to come across as the nanny state, but the important
thing is to see pigs happy in their environment and they like to forage
with their noses.

"For many years now vets have been suggesting that you put a football or
something to kick around into the stall to help calm restless horses.

"Basically the same is true for pigs. If you put in a football or dangle
a chain they could nose it around and play with it - it is helpful."

The Government is not ready to recommend specific toys, however, because
it knows of no firm manufacturing playthings for pigs.

But last night Joyce D'Silva, chief executive of Compassion in World
Farming, said: "With this announcement Defra is completely trivialising
animal welfare issues.

"The EU directive on providing pigs with toys is a welfare measure
designed to ensure they can carry out their natural rooting behaviour,
instead of living on barren, concrete slatted floors. The intention is
to provide pigs with material like straw or mushroom compost to allow
them to root - not basketballs as quoted by Defra. It is quite clear
that there are people in Defra with little knowledge of pigs, apart from
those they see in Hamleys toy shops."