The protection of pigs

Table of Contents:

The protection of pigs

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about The protection of pigs


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Food safety > Animal welfare

The protection of pigs

Document or Iniciative

Council Directive 2008/120/EC of 18 December 2008 laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs.


This Directive lays down minimum standards for the protection of pigs. The text provides a framework in particular for painful operations: castration, caudal amputation, the elimination of corner teeth, etc.


Minimum standards apply to all categories of pigs kept for rearing and fattening: piglets (from birth to weaning), weaned piglets (from weaning to 10 weeks old), fatteners (more than 10 weeks old), sows and gilts *, boars *, etc.

These animals are, apart from some exceptions (farrowing sows, boar), to be raised in groups. Farmers must implement measures aimed at fulfilling basic needs and preventing aggression within the group. In particular, pigs must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of enrichment material in order to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities.

Sows and gilts

Pregnant sows and gilts must, if necessary, be treated against external and internal parasites. Tethering sows and gilts has been prohibited since 1 January 2006.

One week before farrowing, sows and gilts can be isolated. An unobstructed area must be available for natural or assisted farrowing. Boxes must be equipped with piglet protection systems.

Piglets (unweaned)

No piglets shall be weaned from the sow at less than 28 days of age unless the welfare or health of the dam or the piglet would otherwise be adversely affected.

Weaned piglets and rearing pigs

Measures shall be taken to ensure that the animals do not fight. Pigs are to be kept in groups and must not be mixed (except if necessary before weaning or during the week following weaning). Aggressive animals are to be kept away from the group (as are injured animals). Tranquilising medicaments are only to be used to facilitate mixing in exceptional conditions and after consultation with a veterinarian.

Painful operations on animals

A veterinarian or “carer”, trained in aspects relating to animal welfare is authorised to carry out the following:

  • reduction of piglets’ corner teeth,
  • docking of tails (before the seventh day of life or after this age if carried out by a veterinarian and under anaesthesia and with additional prolonged analgesia),
  • castration of males (before the seventh day of life or after this age if carried out by a veterinarian and under anaesthesia and with additional prolonged analgesia),
  • nose-ringing in outdoor husbandry systems.

Neither tail-docking nor reduction of corner teeth must be carried out routinely but only where there is evidence that injuries to sows’ teats or to other pigs’ ears or tails have occurred. Before carrying out these procedures, other measures shall be taken to prevent tail-biting and other vices, taking into account environment and stocking densities. For this reason inadequate environmental conditions or management systems must be changed.


Sick or injured pigs are to be placed in individual enclosures.


The Directive also provides for standards concerning feeding in “sufficient quality” and “permanent” access to drinking water. All pigs must have access to food at the same time as other animals in the group. Animals must be fed at least once a day.


Standards concerning floor area are set according to the weight of the animal: between 0.15 m2 for pigs weighing less than 10 kg and 1 m2 per animal over 110 kg, 1.64 m2 per gilt, 2.25 m2 per sow, 6 m2 for a boar (10 m2 if the boar is used for natural service).

Some accommodation standards will only apply after 1 January 2013 (for buildings constructed before 2003 or after the date of accession to the EU).

Floors must be smooth but not slippery so as to prevent injury to the animals.

The lying area must be comfortable, clean and dry.


Continuous noise as loud as 85 dB is to be avoided. Light intensity is to be at least 40 lux for eight hours.


Member States must carry out inspections each year on a statistically representative sample.

The Commission may send veterinary experts to make on-the-spot checks in the farms with the assistance of national inspectors.

Specific provisions

Member States may apply stricter provisions on their own territory than those laid down in this Directive. In this case, they shall inform the Commission of any such measures beforehand.


This Directive codifies and replaces Directive 91/630/EEC and its subsequent amendments.

Key terms of the Act
  • Gilt: a female pig after puberty and before farrowing.
  • Boar: a male pig after puberty, intended for breeding.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 2008/120/EC



OJ L 47 of 18.2.2009

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