Some years ago, as patron of Compassion in World Farming, I was asked to entertain an eight-week-old piglet at my house. Babe was accustomed to human companionship, having been home-reared by an animal welfare expert. She willingly joined me for a photo-call, became house-trained in 15 minutes, and was enchanting company. She went on to live out her days at a sanctuary in Kent.
Not all pigs are so lucky, but they are all as inherently bright and joyful as Babe. So it is appalling to think of how we treat her intensively-reared cousins.
Compassion in World Farming recently filmed in 60 pig farms across Europe. When you see the results – pigs crowded together in barren concrete pens, with no straw bedding and not even the legally required level of manipulable material, breeding sows still being kept in narrow metal-barred sow stalls, unable to turn round throughout their four-month pregnancies, widespread tail-docking and castration of piglets – you are tempted to despair. You can see just how awful sows stalls are in Jamie Oliver's Jamie Saves Our Bacon on Channel 4 next week.
But I refuse to give up hope. Significant welfare gains have already been made. The UK banned the keeping of sows in those narrow stalls in 1999 and the 27 member states of the European Union are set to follow in 2013, although an infamous exemption has been granted for the first four weeks of pregnancy. The EU directive on pigs is about to be reviewed, and my animal welfare friends are gearing up for a major reform campaign, which I totally support. Those narrow stalls must go and castration without anaesthesia must be banned.
Cutting off piglets' tails (without pain relief) is not supposed to be done routinely, but there seem to be hardly any farms where pigs keep their tails, even in Britain. Farmers say it prevents tail-biting. The ironic thing is that if pigs are allowed to go free range, or to have plenty of space and straw, they don't bite each other's tails – they have other things to interest them. Yet most pigs live on hideously uncomfortable concrete-and-slatted floors, utterly lacking stimulation.
We now need three things to happen. We must get that pigs directive massively reformed so that it really protects pig welfare right across the EU. We must persuade supermarkets and food service companies to upgrade their pig welfare standards – they can do this now as they don't have to wait for the law to be changed.
And you and I, dear citizens, can exert the power of our shopping baskets. We must resolutely only purchase higher welfare pork and bacon. If the label doesn't say that the meat is organic, free range, outdoor bred and outdoor reared, or Freedom Food, then avoid it. When we are eating out, we must remember to ask the restaurant if their pork has a welfare label.
Let's all make a pig promise today. Let's promise to do our best to achieve a decent quality of life for each and every one of them. I will – and I hope you will too.
'Jamie Saves Our Bacon' is on Channel 4 next Thursday at 9pm; www.ciwf.org.ukReuse content