Pig Welfare in Ireland

pork by bour3, Flickr
pork by bour3, Flickr

In another article here on The Circular, we explore the importance of buying Irish pork and how to be sure we are supporting our local pig rearers and producers. Here, we investigate whether the systems and legalities in place to ensure the meat products we produce are worthy of that protection.


Pork has been a key part of Irish diet since prehistory. The Brehon Laws, originally written in the 7th century make frequent references to pigs and pigmeat both as food and as form of tribute. For example, the trespass of a pig in a growing field of corn was fineable by one sack of wheat. There are a huge number of traditional Irish dishes that include the use of pork in some form or another – coddle, ribs and colcannon, brawn, pudding… the list goes on. In the 17th and 18th centuries Waterford was a major producer and centre of export for pork, at one time producing at least two thirds of the total consumed in London.

pork by bour3, Flickr
pork by bour3, Flickr

In more recent years the meat continues to have the highest consumption rates per capita. The continued popularity of pigmeat means that food producers have been consistently looking for better, faster and cheaper methods of meeting the demands of major supermarkets, and ultimately, the consumer. The McDonaldisation of a burgeoning consumptive society decrees that farms are now more technological than ever before, taking away both the need to pay staff and the room for human error – mechanised, perfect.

Chemicals are added to the food to save money, time and to ensure that the finished product looks aesthetically pleasing. By adding antibiotics and growth hormones to the feed, pigs on the production line grow bigger in a shorter space of time and wont die from the injuries and disease they might sustain living in confined conditions en masse.

In a recent online publication by agriland.ie about pig farms under animal welfare investigation, it was identified that farm animal welfare watchdog Compassion had recently investigated five separate pig farms in Ireland. Dil Peeling, Compassion’s director of campaigns alleged:

“These are the worst pig farms that we have seen in Europe, and the worst conditions that I have seen in years. I am shocked to find pigs kept in such squalor in a modern, first-world country. In some of the farms there was a hospital area that would be laughable if it weren’t so devastating: an emaciated pig left to die, dying pigs lying on top of one another. It is a real life hell hole. The levels of neglect on all of the farms points to a systematic failure and the barbarity of the situation points to two options: either the Government doesn’t care or it is incompetent. Either of these in inexcusable.”

All sizes by Tequila&Donuts, Flickr
All sizes by Tequila&Donuts, Flickr

Although the Irish Government have the ultimate duty of care towards establishing the necessary animal-welfare laws in this country,  the only way things will really change is if the consumer demands it. There is growing change with regards to food reduction with particular focus on fish and poultry in previous years, massively because of the work of food activists like TV chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who televised their efforts and distributed the distasteful truth to the paying public. Within a very short space of time free range whole chickens and chicken breasts have become available in most supermarkets for a very affordable cost – it is hoped that this can become the norm across all meat products.

This little #piggy went to the #supermarket.

A photo posted by Tracy Gabrys (@tigohitties) on

Although ethical pork not currently available in supermarket chains, with a small amount of planning and a slight increase in cost it is very possible to buy free-range pig products. Start-ups like Coolanowle and The Ethical Pork Company in Dublin who raise their own pigs and sell the meat at markets and festivals provide very good quality items which are affordable. In absentia of markets it is always important to speak to your butcher – let them know that the desire and demand for free-range in your locale.

Remember, being Irish does not automatically qualify a product as fair, ethical or high-quality. Buying directly from the producer ensures that your money is going towards whoever reared the pigs, and means a better life for animals in Ireland.

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