If you eat pork, bacon, ham, sausages or chorizo and care about animals then this week’s news will interest you. The French government has announced that from January 2022 it will be illegal to castrate baby pigs without anaesthetics. The procedure has historically been done to stop the meat having an unpalatable smell at maturity. In spite of a European declaration in 2012 it has yet to be halted even though the aim was to end castration without pain relief in Europe by 2018. Other countries such as the UK, Ireland and Spain slaughter pigs before sexual maturity, therefore avoiding the problem of unpleasant smelling meat. However, the problem is far less important now than in the past. Once, 20 % of pork was tainted but with selective breeding and improved feedstuffs, the strange smell only appears in 2% of carcasses. Yet, castration without pain relief was widespread.
Some French products demand pork from castrated piglets – Bayonne ham for example. Avoiding the possibility of ‘boar taint’ has been the priority of French farmers and pork product manufacturers. Only, 2.8 million piglets went uncastrated in France in 2019, just a fraction of the 23.5 million produced overall.
Another problem with the French pig industry is that it is very intensive. Pigs have 1 square metre to live in or less. We live in the north-east of France where several pork dishes are part of the region’s heritage, yet we have never seen a field of outdoor pigs enjoying mud and space to roam. Most pigs never see daylight nor feel anything but wooden slats under their trotters.
So are the piglets that provide your pork and sausages now living happy, contented lives? Well, no. There is still the problem of tail docking. In the first week of life 99% of piglets in France have their tails chopped off. The problem goes back to the number of piglets kept in small spaces with nothing to do and nowhere to go. The only thing of interest for them to play with is the tails of their fellows. The bitten tails can become infected, so many farmers like to chop them off to stop the problems progressing.
There is also the practise of cutting or grinding down piglets’ teeth supposedly to prevent damage to the sows udders. What is the answer to all of this?
We now buy very few pork products. When we see frozen ‘sanglier’ (wild boar) on sale in Aldi we buy it. It tastes and looks very different to the pink, insipid pork meat that everyone is used to. It has flavour, taste and texture.
If you are fortunate enough to live near an enterprising farmer who sells direct to the public, embrace his products. It is likely that you will be able to see his animals and that they will have ample space to move, access to fresh air, straw to lie on and burrow into and most importantly, enchanting, curly, waggly tails.