Plans to fly Irish pigs to China heavily criticized

Two pigs looking up from a fence, animal news
Pigs, photo: Kenneth Schipper Vera on Unsplash

The announcement by the Irish government to fly live pigs to China for breeding has been heavily criticized by animal welfare organizations and politicians.

Last month, Ireland’s agriculture minister, Charlie McConalogue, announced the export of high-quality breeding pigs to China as part of a broader trade deal.

“The journey will involve an 11-hour flight with changes in air pressure, temperature, turbulence and excessive noise, which will be extremely stressful for the pigs,” said Caroline Rowley, founder of Ethical Farming Ireland.

Of equal concern, Rowley said, are the dangers the pigs face on arrival. “Animal welfare standards in China are very poor. China is ranked G by the World Animal Protection Index for farm animal welfare, which is the lowest possible ranking,” she said.

For Rowley, the proposed Irish pig exports also contradict the country’s welfare and climate policies: “Where does this fit in with the [Irish] Animal Welfare Strategy launched earlier this year amongst much fanfare? Where does flying thousands of pigs to China fit in with our Climate Action Policy?”

At the very least, Rowley said, the government could consider other breeding support methods. “There are other ways that don’t involve exporting live animals.” 

For example, she said, semen and embryos could be exported from Ireland, both of which would reduce animal suffering and have a lower carbon footprint compared to flying live pigs.

Not the way forward
Expressing her shock at Ireland’s plans, Member of the European Parliament and chair of the EU’s inquiry into animal transport violations, Tilly Metz, said she was “appalled”.

“Flying pigs from Ireland to China is definitely not the way forward: neither for animal welfare nor for the climate,” said Metz.

“In the current context of climate turmoil and talks about making our food system more sustainable by shortening supply chains, I’m frankly appalled that the Irish Minister for Agriculture would proudly support this absurd new market outlet for Irish (over)production,” she told online publication Euractiv

The news from McConalogue comes at a time when the UK is preparing a ban on the export of live animals, and the EU wants to put a maximum on the time animals can be in transport.

Answering a question about pig welfare in the Irish parliament, McConalogue said the pigs would be well-treated: “I wish to assure the Deputy that the Department deploys considerable resources to protecting animal welfare during transport.”

“The high genetic merit breeding pigs that will be transported to China will be transported with every possible measure to minimize any risk of injury and suffering,” McConalogue said. 

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