Pig profit can survive use of pain control: vet

New regulations to provide pain control when castrating and tail docking piglets shouldn’t hamper production, says a University of Guelph veterinarian.

The new rules under the country’s pig code of practice come into effect July 1, 2016.

Robert Friendship, a researcher who works in hog health and disease surveillance, said studies show that the added step at processing may not improve growth or mortality rates, but it doesn’t hurt them either.

He said there are options that are “relatively practical.”

“I don’t think producers that don’t want to do this really have a leg to stand on. It’ll be 10 or 15 cents more per pig. It’ll be a little bit more labour, but it’s so small,” Friendship said in an interview during the Saskatchewan Pork Industry Symposium in Saskatoon last week.

“I don’t think that looks particularly good on the industry to say we can’t do it because of 10 cents.”

He told the symposium that several analgesics are available to producers to successfully mitigate pain in the 24 hours following castration, including meloxicam given through an intramuscular injection.

He expects this is how most producers will comply with the regulations.

“These piglets, it’s not obvious that they’re suffering a lot of pain, but when you give them this analgesia, their behaviour changes a little. They don’t isolate themselves away … they’re in there with their litter mates,” he said.

“If you look at cortisol, the stress hormone, it comes down to normal fairly quickly when you have analgesia, so it’s doing something in a positive way. I think it’s a lot easier to sell to the general public that we care enough, that we’re providing some pain control. It’s still a painful procedure. We have to do it. We can’t market our pigs unless we castrate them, but we are aware that it’s painful.”

However, the analgesics he listed are an imperfect solution and don’t provide pain relief for the incision.

Animal agriculture watchdogs applauded the inclusion of pain relief requirements when the new pig code was revealed earlier this year.

“This new code of practice is a turning point for the welfare of pigs in Canada,” Barbara Cartwright, chief executive officer of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, said in a news release when the code was made public.

“Pigs’ lives will also be improved by mandatory pain relief during castration and tail docking. However, we encourage producers to provide even higher standards than the code requires.”

It’s been suggested that producers could use a local anesthetic such as lidocaine to freeze the area before a procedure, but Friendship said this is impractical. It takes several minutes to take effect and requires handling the animals twice, which increases animal stress.

As well, he said images of needles and testicles could disturb the public.

“I can’t imagine producers complying with this having to handle the animal twice, and I don’t think you could argue from a welfare standpoint … that the extra handling and the extra pain from the injection of the lidocaine amounts to a better solution than just going with the straight analgesia,” he said.

“Accept the fact that there is going to be an acute pain and then we’re using an analgesic to cover the chronic pain. I think (that’s) doing something that’s positive…. Not completely solving the problem, but maybe a good step forward.”

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