Systematic Docking

By Christian BlockLex Kleren Switch to German for original article

The consistent cutting off of piglets' tails has been prohibited throughout the EU for almost 30 years. But the reality in the pigsty looks different. The aim of the Administration of Veterinary Services is to allow the procedure in future only in exceptional cases by means of sensitisation. Will this succeed?

Not two seconds pass, then the procedure is over. The hot cutter has cut off about a third of the piglet's tail and closed the wound. What sounds painful does not seem to bother the piglet, which is only a few days old, at least from the outside perspective. Shortly afterwards, it romps around again among its siblings as if nothing had happened.

In technical jargon, this procedure is called tail docking. But although systematic tail clipping in pigs has been banned in the EU since the early 1990s, the practice is still widespread in most countries. There is some evidence (see infobox). In October 2013, for example, the European Commission confirmed in a statement that "tail docking is a widespread practice in the EU". However, in its response to a number of petitions received by the EU Parliament, it considered the EU Member States to be primarily responsible for "ensuring the correct application of EU law". It also referred to the "effective instruments at their disposal to impose sanctions". Three years later, the executive body published a recommendation and carried out awareness-raising activities, which had little success. The Commission also called on states to implement action plans "by January 2018".

From the point of view of the conventional pig sector, docking is essential to prevent nibbling of the tails, a behavioural disorder. For this can end in a bloodbath for the cannibalistically inclined animals. Breeding farms speak of an unpleasant job that they would prefer to do without. Also because it costs time and money to perform the procedure on hundreds of animals a month, depending on the size of the farm. In their logic, docking is a preventive intervention, which is ultimately even in the interest of animal welfare. A bitten tail is the death sentence of an animal. Of course, not everyone sees it that way. Animal rights activists, for example. But even in the scientific community there are voices that see docking as a painful intervention.

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