Unresolved animal welfare issues exposed in Norway

In 2019, the industry largely promoted the guarantee of pig welfare after the publication of a video documentary. In 2021, videos show up again and contest issues have been resolved.

The ad published that promoted animal welfare for pigs from Nortura
The ad published in 2019 that promoted animal welfare for pigs from Nortura

In 2019, NRK, the national broadcasting company, published a documentary about the poor living conditions inside the Norwegian pig barns. It led to a series of reunions between the largest actors of the industry, demanded by the Minister of Agriculture. It ended up with promises of video surveillance inside facilities, farmer training, or a mandatory animal welfare program. Acknowledging pigs are cleaned and curious animals, it recommended a minimal and clean space for each pig, straw on the floor or even tassel to play with.

After a year, Norwegian Farmers Union declared pig living conditions were good.

But activists of the Network for Animals, a non-governmental animal welfare organization, anonymously visited at least 28 farms after 2019’s declared changes. They intruded in barns at night and recorded poor living conditions. Almost all pigs on the videos still lived on concrete and were surrounded by dirt and feces. Dead animals were sometimes lying on the floor. Others were sick or injured. Activists also filmed pig tails as it informs if they are happy when the tail is curled.

Some of the farms sold pigs and sows to Gilde and Nortura, a large slaughterhouse and Norway’s biggest food supplier. The company had yet advertised it guaranteed animal welfare. “If it says Gilde on the package, you should be sure that the meat is Norwegian, and that the animals are well“, the company promised in the largest Norwegian newspaper in 2019.

Contacted by NKR, Nortura had already identified issues with half of the farms involved in the videos and took action – 2 farmers ceased operating for example. “We are not at the finish line, but continue the workthe chairman told NRK. Out of the 1,500 pig suppliers at Nortura, 298 were removed from the list because of poor animal welfare, 26 banned and 12 stopped their activity.

Animal welfare ad was greenwashing

But the food giant also recognizes now that the claims were false. “Yes, it was greenwashing“, admitted the executive vice president of Nortura. The Norwegian Consumer Agency had concluded that they performed a misleading marketing campaign.

The different actors condemned the videos and recognized improvement was still necessary. However, the Norwegian Farmers Union consider the videos are not representative of the 2,000 Norwegian pig producers. And on June 10, the annual meeting of the union adopted a resolution stating all animals must be treated well. It would welcome a report from the parliament on animal welfare.

Nortura also asks for the Norwegian Food Safety Authority to come more often to the farms to make unexpected inspections.

In 2019, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority found 217 violations, which NKR was able to study. Half of the violations were due to a lack of dry litter, space, water or cleaned bins. Another third was due to sick or injured animals not receiving treatment. The analysis pointed out that few farms received control after requiring to improve the conditions. The authority mostly trusted the farmers who asserted modifications were done. Yet, in a barn, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority controlled and found repeated violations of animal welfare during 8 years.

As part of the Supervision of the welfare of pigs 2021-2022, the Norwegian Food Safety Authority controlled 73 farms during the first quarter of 2021. But the website mentions it is too early to draw statistics or draw any conclusions from results yet.

As in 2019, all actors want to show strong good will, but are also keen for the authorities to show them the way.

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