With bacon, sausages and ham being a familiar product in many supermarket trolleys, do we do enough to highlight the lives of over 10 million pigs that are being farmed in the UK every year?

Now you may not be aware, but pigs are actually very intelligent animals. They are smart, playful and have good long term memories. Not only one of the most intelligent farm animals but they also rank in the top 10 for ALL intelligent animals, alongside chimps, elephants and dolphins. Who would have thought it?!

We therefore shouldn’t underestimate these animals, who are inquisitive, adaptable and learn quickly – being able to tell familiar humans apart as well as having a range of different vocalisations to communicate with each other.

Yet, despite everything we know about these fascinating animals, sadly millions are being kept in conditions in the UK that fall short of meeting their behavioural and physical needs. Mothering pigs can legally be kept in farrowing crates, metal crates which severely restrict their movement until the piglets are weaned, which usually takes place when they are four weeks old. Whilst designed to protect the piglets from being crushed, this confinement prevents the mother pig being able to build a nest for her young, going against her mothering instinct to prepare for their birth and care for her piglets.

Then there’s the conditions of the pigs being reared for meat. Many are kept on fully slatted floors, which due to the nature of slurry system used, do not allow bedding or suitable and sufficient enrichment material (e.g. straw) to be provided. Enriching the environment with material for the pigs to root around in can help to prevent behavioural problems. In addition, the RSPCA believes that many pigs are not given sufficient space to move around freely, which can also increase the risk of tail biting. This makes us extremely concerned about the welfare of each individual pig farmed for meat under such conditions.

So what is the RSPCA doing?

The RSPCA has been speaking out for farmed pigs for many years, including the campaign to ban sow stalls, which was implemented across the UK in 1999 and then, partially, across Europe in 2013. We also work with Eurogroup for Animals, who work to improve legislation at the EU level, and ensure current animal welfare laws are enforced across all EU countries. We need greater legal protection for pigs and will continue to call for changes at every opportunity.

We also engage with farming and industry bodies directly, highlighting these issues with those who can help raise standards for farmed pigs. We set our own RSPCA welfare standards for farm pigs which not only prohibit the use of farrowing crates, but also ensure pigs are provided with bedding to give them somewhere comfortable to lie down, and enough suitable material for them to root around in to enable them to behave naturally and keep them stimulated.

These are just a few of our standards, in total we set 496 standards for farm pigs, which protect their welfare from birth to slaughter.

In the last 7 years, we have seen the number of pigs reared to RSPCA welfare standards rise – today, almost a million more pigs are reared to RSPCA welfare standards compared to 2009.  But even with over a quarter of British pigs being reared to RSPCA standards, there are still far too many pigs kept in conditions that don’t meet their needs.

How can you help?

If you are interested in finding out more about pig welfare and our work for farmed animals, you can take a look at our pig welfare pages.

You can also sign the petition calling for compulsory welfare labelling and sign up to our Give Animals a Voice e-newsletter to keep up to date with our campaigns to help all animals.

Also, if you choose to eat pig products such sausages, bacon and pork, you can support higher welfare farms who rear to RSPCA welfare standards by looking for and buying RSPCA Assured meat products.

Every single one of us can make a difference and vote with our forks, every time we eat.

Kate, a graduate of Oxford and Edinburgh Universities, has long had a keen interest in farm animal welfare issues. She is currently a Senior Scientific Officer at the RSPCA, working in the charity’s Farm Animal Department. Her speciality is pig production and welfare. Kate’s work involves the ongoing development of the RSPCA’s welfare standards for pigs. She is particularly proud of the work she has carried out on free farrowing for pigs which has led to the complete phasing out of the use of farrowing crates by farmers who use the RSPCA Assured label on their products. Free farrowing gives sows the room to turn around freely and material to build their nests.