Will vaccination finally replace surgical pig castration in Norway?
Male piglets are routinely castrated in order to avoid the risk of a small percentage of them developing "boar taint", which is found to be unpleasant by a small proportion of Norwegian consumers. The Norwegian Animal Protection Alliance (NAPA) has worked hard to stop the painful castration of piglets since the early 2000s.
Respect for animals
To perform surgery on an animal and amputate its body parts solely in the name of meat quality is a violation of the animal's intrinsic value and personal integrity.
Surgery without medical reason is generally forbidden according to the Norwegian Animal Welfare Act. Castration of piglets is allowed as the only exception. On principal grounds NAPA finds it important to change the law in order to provide newborn piglets with the same legal protection as other animals.
Long process towards finding alternative
After pressure from NAPA, the parliament decided in 2003 that the surgical castration should be ended by 2009. In anticipation of the surgical castration should be discontinued, the requirement for local analgesia and anaesthesia was introduced.
A prerequisite for a surgical castration ban was that the industry was able to identify an alternative way to solve the issue of boar taint. The meat industry received a large amount of financial support for the research for an alternative solution.
In 2009, it was clear that the meat industry had not been able to come up with an alternative solution. As a consequence, they wanted to continue with the surgical castration procedure.
Vaccine introduced as a solution
In order to push the meat industry forward to find an alternative, NAPA took the initiative to get the vaccine Improvac for boar taint tested in Norway. It was already approved for use in all EU-countries in 2009 as well as in Norway.
Improvac is a vaccine-based alternative to surgical castration, also called immune castration. The vaccine delays sexual maturation, and removes the risk of boar taint. It has been successfully used in Australia and New Zealand for many years. In Norway the vaccine has now been in use since 2010, and farmers have good experiences with it.
The meat industry organization Animalia has developed a control system for vaccinated pigs at the slaughterhouse, and introduced a significant penalty that the farmer get if they deliver pigs that are not adequately vaccinated. The numbers of vaccinated pigs in Norway has therefore been relatively small, mainly because of the fear of being fined.
Political campaign to increase vaccine use
In 2014, NAPA had a political campaign, to increase the proportion of vaccinated pigs and to implement the goal of ending surgical castration.
This campaign had a positive political outcome. The Minister of Agriculture, Sylvi Listhaug, actively spoke out and encouraged the industry to increase the number of vaccinated pigs (autumn 2014).
The Minister also established a working group to look for ways to end the surgical castration. This working group submitted their report in February 2015.
NAPA continues to work politically to achieve a ban on castration of piglets.
O'Dwyer, G., "Norway ministry working group to examine vaccine castration", URL: globalmeatnews.com, 5 January 2015.
Landbruks- og matdepartementet, "Rapport om alternativer til kirurgisk kastrering av gris", URL: regjeringen.no, 2 February 2015.