Livestock: Castrating piglets is offal
22 February 2010
For once pig farmers and piglets are in complete agreement: the barbarous and cruel practice of pig castration serves only to satisfy a pointless whim of German consumers — which is why it should be outlawed, insists Flemish poet and writer, Dimitri Verhulst.
Pigs are castrated before they have a chance to take any pleasure from their balls. You might argue that they derive no benefit from having testicles given that most of them will be sent to the abattoir within six months, even though they could easily live for 12 years. Only a rare few qualify on the basis of a range of arcane selection procedures to become sperm donors, which entitles them to a stay of execution. In that case, they have the privilege of copulating with a plastic bottle before they end up in the pot.
But a tragic destiny awaits all the other male piglets – and it's more painful than you might expect. As meat has to be produced at the lowest possible cost, the procedure is virtually almost always performed without an anaesthetic. The piglets are hung upside down while the farm hands slice through their scrota and cut off their freshly descended testicles. Naturally the squeals of pain are absolutely deafening, which is why the torturers forced to perform this awful chore, are careful to wear ear mufflers.
Germans refuse non-castrated piglets
To be sure, some of the more compassionate masters provide the pink castrati with a rudimentary anaesthetic in the form of CO2 – which dulls the pain, but burns their lungs. And for the the truly tenderhearted, there is even a more humane technique: a quick Improvac immunocastration injection at the base of the ear. However, this last option is expensive, and concerns have been raised about the long-term effects of the use hormone cocktails on the health of consumers.
All this agony is justified by the fact that approximately 1% of meat from male pigs – studboars – gives off an unpleasant smell when cooked – a phenomenon known in the industry as boar taint. And our carnivorous friends in Germany, who have a horror of meat that might taste or smell a bit too much like meat – to the point where they must dream that pigs come into the world without balls – refuse to purchase non-castrated piglets. Given that a significant proportion of Belgian porkers wind up as German cutlets or face their destiny in a German sausage shed, just a few days after they are born, their balls are bounced into a bucket. And it is a terrible sight – a bucket full of warm viscous testicles – especially, when you reflect that all this suffering is completely unnecessary.
Change must come from retailers and restaurants
Pork has a purpose: pressed offal meat balls – yum yum, with onions ketchup and mayonnaise – and don't forget the beer and chips. If you have ever had lunch at a roadside chipper – and most of us have – you can't pretend that there is no market for "strong-tasting" meat. Why go to all this trouble when we are quiet happy to dine on ground-up chicks macerated in shit? Chicken sausage anyone? And let's not forget that the gamey flavour completely disappears when the meat is cooked, and turned into ham. There is absolutely no trace of it. Niente. You can't taste the difference, and you can't smell it. So really, there is no reason to separate the poor piggies from their nuts: it is neither economic nor gastronomic, and it certainly isn't ethical.
You don't have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the importance of animal welfare. The meat market may have no time for genteel values, but even the most cynical producers are aware that the carnivores at the top of the food chain don't like the idea of tucking into a roast that is the product of unbridled barbarism. Bear in mind that consumers can't buy decent products if there are none for sale: so the impetus for change has to come from retailers and restaurants. In the Netherlands, Aldi, Lidl and McDonalds – yes, even big bad McDonalds – have decided to no longer stock meat from castrated piglets. Albert Heijn, the Dutch market leader, has promised to follow suit in 2011. As a result, every year one and a half million porkers will be able to live out their days as whole pigs. And the producers are overjoyed to give up the horrible, time consuming chore of castrating them. In one fell swoop, a single measure has improved the lives of pigs and their masters. And if we support the campaign for change, it will come to Belgium too.