Morgan, L., Itin-Shwartz, B., Koren, L. et al. 2019. Physiological and economic benefits of abandoning invasive surgical procedures and enhancing animal welfare in swine production. Scientific Reports 9, 16093.
Food-animal welfare is a major ethical and social concern. Pork is the most consumed meat worldwide, with over a billion pigs slaughtered annually. Most of these pigs routinely undergo painful surgical procedures (surgical castration, tail docking, teeth clipping), which farmers often reluctant to avoid, claiming it would increase cost and reduce production efficiency. Herein, this study indicates that these procedures compromise pigs’ health and condition. Replacing surgical castration with immunocastration, avoiding tail docking and teeth clipping, and providing environmental enrichment, resulted in significant increase in weight gain, lowered risks for injuries and death, and reduced saliva and hair cortisol, both biomarkers for stress. Testosterone and DHEA analyses confirmed that immunocastration was an effective alternative to surgical castration. Economic models for the entire US swine market revealed that following across-the-board acceptance of this management, pork meat price is expected to drop, while the total annual social welfare (combined consumer and producer surplus) is expected to increase by $US 1.48 to 1.92 billion. In conclusion, sustainable swine farming management can be beneficial for both animals and farmers. Applying such welfare-friendly management is expected to reduce stress, enhance piglet/pig welfare and production, and improve the economics of swine operations in the global agro-food system.