An end to slatted flooring
Demand for straw for Austrian pigs
- News from the Campaign
- August 2021 – Police move in and clear activists protecting two liberated pigs, Mickey and Jackie
- August 2021 – VGT alarmed: Liberated pigs in front of factory farm threatened with death
- August 2021 – VGT releases undercover footage of intensive pig farm
- August 2021 – Two pigs, Mickey and Jackie freed from largest pig farm in Burgenland
- July 2021 – Activists occupy intensive pig farm, the recent focus of undercover footage showing appalling conditions
- March 2021 – New video: VGT tells story of Paul
- Campaign Background
You can sign the petition (German) to support our campaign.
News from the Campaign
Police move in and clear activists protecting two liberated pigs, Mickey and Jackie
Farmer refuses an offer of €3,000 for the pigs. They should rather die needlessly. The VGT emphasises: They have already been given the pigs
When animal rights activists yesterday took over two pigs from the largest pig factory in Burgenland with 3,000 animals on a fully slatted flooring and built them an enclosure, everything seemed to be going well. The two animals, although they had clearly swollen joints, were investigating their surroundings with interest, rooting in the straw and enthusiastically eating fresh fruit and veg. At about 9 o'clock the older of the two managers of the farm gave the two pigs to the VGT with the words "the pigs will be left to you", explicitly without asking for money for them. The VGT immediately organised an animal rescue charity to come and get the pigs and secured them a life long home in a sanctuary. But the younger manager revoked the gift about an hour later. From then on it was an emotional roller coaster. Various people, including an organic farmer, offered up to € 3,000 for the animals, but it appears that Ing. Wolfgang Pleier of the Animal Husbandry Department in the Chamber of Agriculture prevented the handover. After his intervention, the pigs were said to be unsaleable, although the older farmer told the VGT that he would have gladly given them to the animal rights activists. So at around 5 pm the police proceeded to remove the activists from the site and the pigs were taken from the activists’ care.
Video of the forced eviction of the peaceful animal rights activists, who only wanted to save the two pigs Mickey and Jackie from being killed:
During and after the eviction, the state vet present ridiculed the animal rights activists, claiming that giving the animals straw and a run was cruelty to animals, as they could catch pneumonia. The VGT is in possession of a carcass examination of pigs from this very farm from 11 June 2021 which found that 43% (!) of the animals had inflammation of the lungs and 7% of them had foreign content in the lungs! In addition, 17% of the pigs were found to have roundworms in their livers and a massive 70% of the animals had some kind of illness, whereby bites and scratches as well as swollen joints and calluses were not even included.
VGT chairperson Martin Balluch was on the scene and was brutally pulled away by the police:
Unfortunately, state authorities have again used their power to bend the law to the disadvantage of the pigs instead of protecting them. Animals are still considered things for which there should be no emergency aid. If the Animal Welfare Act were taken seriously, this pig factory would have to close down. However, with such state vets, it is hopeless. The Hippocratic Oath to always prioritise patients' interests obviously does not count for them. Instead, she said in all seriousness that the pigs were better off in the factory than out in the open. But the carcass inspection certificates of the pigs from this farm tell a completely different story. The incident proves: with such official veterinarians there will never be effective control of the animal industry, and with such animal factory operators it will never be possible to improve the lot of the pigs, unless there are very clear laws banning fully slatted flooring and making straw bedding compulsory. These people have no conscience and no compassion. It is inconceivable that they will convert of their own accord, as ÖVP Agriculture Minister Köstinger would have us believe. The only way to deal with them is via legal prohibitions.
VGT alarmed: VGT alarmed: Liberated pigs in front of factory farm threatened with death
Farmer revokes gift to VGT, state vet to decide on life and death of Mickey and Jackie, animal rescue charity stopped from collecting the pigs.
Today's action with two freed pigs in front of the factory farm in Pöttelsdorf has a new twist. The message was originally quite clear: the pigs were given to the VGT – literally! – without having to pay anything. All parties involved understood it that way. Now the farmer has revoked his gift and the police have announced that the state vet is to decide on the fate of the two freed pigs. All the activists have fallen in love with Mickey and Jackie, who are spending their time romping around and then burrowing into the straw to have a snooze, cuddled up next to each other. It would be unbearable if these poor creatures had to die a completely senseless death.
VGT chairperson Martin Balluch said:
The farmer obviously wants to kill the pigs now in order to hurt us. It would be horrible if Mickey and Jackie were simply executed. How callous do you have to be to want something like that? We initially offered the farmer money to buy the animals from him. Then he gave them to us as a gift, as numerous people can testify. Now he is revoking this gift. But a gift is a gift, the VGT will not simply leave these pigs to their fate without a fight. We will use passive resistance to save these pigs. Now they have already had a taste of freedom and they have both been secured a life long home in a sanctuary.
VGT releases undercover footage of intensive pig farm
Meanwhile the farmer wants to take back his promise that the VGT can have the pigs – ten farmers have arrived and are behaving aggressively. But a gift is a gift: the pigs remain with the VGT!
The VGT received very recent footage from the intensive pig farm in Pöttelsdorf, Burgenland, where the two liberated pigs Mickey and Jackie came from. The owner of this farm has a brother who also has a pig farm in the area, where footage of conditions evidencing mother pigs never being let out of the sow stalls was also recently made public by VGT. The new footage from the fattening unit with 3,000 animals shows filthy full slatted floor pens with injured animals. The farm received € 8,000 in subsidies from taxpayers' money in 2020. The VGT has filed a complaint. The director of the provincial veterinary authority has just promised to carry out an inspection of the large farm at 2 pm. The local official state veterinarian refused.
A video from this farm shows horrendous animal cruelty:
Ten farmers suddenly arrived on site and aggressively threatened the animal rights activists. They said the activists had no idea about pigs, because in free-range farming the pigs get inflammation of the lungs. In reality, post-mortem examinations show that every second pig on a fully slatted flooring develops inflammation of the lungs. The animal rights activists called the police for help and they separated the two groups.
VGT chairperson Martin Balluch said:
Anyone who sees this footage from inside the farm cannot help but feel sorry for the pigs. And once again this factory farm receives state funding from our minister for agriculture Elisabeth Köstinger. This must come to an end. We demand straw instead of concrete for all pigs in Austria. In Burgenland it has been forbidden since January 2020 to build new pig farms without straw bedding.
Two pigs, Mickey and Jackie freed from largest slatted floor factory farm in Burgenland
The pigs see for the first time in their lives that there is a world outside the factory walls, what it is like to root in the earth, lie in straw, feel the rain.
Enough is enough. Week after week the VGT exposes the appalling conditions in Austria's slatted floor pig factories, but the ÖVP agriculture minister Köstinger prevents any legal progress, refuses to allow straw for pigs. That is why this morning unknown individuals freed two pigs from an intensive farm in Pöttelsdorf near Mattersburg in Burgenland. In front of the huge factory building with almost 3,000 animals, an outdoor enclosure was set up by two dozen animal rights activists. Mickey and Jackie see for the first time that there is a world outside the factory walls. For the first time in their lives, they can stand on a soft natural floor instead of on sharp-edged concrete slabs. They smell the fresh air, they feel the rain, they root in the soil, they pick at the grass and eat fresh fruit and vegetables for the first time. The VGT received recent photos and video footage from this pig factory and is pressing charges of animal cruelty. It demands that there must be an inspection by the responsible official veterinarian and offers to take over the two liberated pigs.
The farmer says the VGT can have the pigs and an animal rescue charity is immediately organised to pick up Mickey and Jackie and take them to a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their natural lives in peace and safety.
VGT chairperson Martin Balluch is at the scene:
Despite my long experience, it was unbelievable for me to see how enthusiastically these animals explore their new environment. As soon as they saw straw for the first time, they immediately started chewing it and laying down in it. Unfortunately, it is pouring down with rain here and there is a strong wind, although it is very warm. But even that excites the pigs. Feeling the rain is a privilege that you only appreciate if you never get to experience it. The difference between the factory farm and life outside is like night and day. The contrast here couldn't be starker, even though the pigs inside and outside are only a few metres apart.
Activists occupy intensive pig farm, the recent focus of undercover footage showing appalling conditions
This huge pig farm, built in 2015 with subsidies from the Austrian taxpayer, was approved following official inspections, but undercover footage passed on to the the VGT reveals injured animals with open back wounds, bloody bitten tail stubs, bitten off ears, umbilical hernia, injured joints – and faeces and dirt everywhere. The footage shows such terrible conditions that one has to ask how this could not have been noticed during the initial inspections.
Video of inside the farm:
Activists occupied the farm in Lower Austria and demanded an inspection by the responsible official veterinarian of the St. Pölten-Land district authority. In VGT's opinion these conditions clearly show animal cruelty prohibited under the Animal Welfare Act. It took the whole day, but finally the authorities agreed to inspect the farm, but this was not before a farmer drove his car into the demonstrators holding banners at the entrance to the farm and attacked one of them. After being calmed down by two activists, the farmer suddenly attacked again for no apparent reason and hit one of the women on the head. VGT chairperson Martin Balluch said:
There was no talking to this person. He was incredibly aggressive and threatening. Only the presence of the police made him keep his distance and finally he drove off again. We will file a complaint with the public prosecutor's office.
Video of the attacks:
New video: VGT tells story of Paul
Rescued from an intensive pig farm with slatted floor ing by courageous animal rights activists, the seriously ill pig Paul received emergency medical care, but died anyway:
He had a huge hematoma in his ear and could only walk on his knees when he was discovered by animal rights activists in a pig factory. His rescuers took him to an emergency clinic and named him Paul. The hematoma was treated and he received the medical attention and the loving care that he deserved. Nevertheless, Paul didn't pull through. He died from his severe injuries and illnesses, sustained from appalling factory farm conditions.
The assumption that many Austrians have that every pig is allowed to sleep on soft straw is unfortunately far from the truth.
According to Statistik Austria, only 11 % of pigs in Austria see any straw at all. A massive 60 % are made to live on a so-called fully slatted floor. This is concrete flooring with 1.8 cm wide gaps throughout, often with sharp edges. A fully slatted floor is cheaper: whereas straw would constantly have to be removed and replaced, with slatted flooring no time needs to be invested in taking care of the pigs as their excrement and urine drop through between the slats, thus saving money on straw and labour costs. Studies show that 92 % of pigs made to live on fully slatted flooring develop bursitis of the joints and die prematurely 4 times more frequently. In addition, stress levels and aggression leading to injuries is much higher with pigs without access to straw in contrast to those with straw, who are generally more active and display more play and foraging behaviour.
It is unacceptable for cost cutting to be at the expense of pigs' welfare! If pigs are denied access to outdoors, they must at least be given an area with straw, providing a soft place to lie down and the opportunity for environmental enrichment.
Bans in other countries
Even compared to the largest exporters in Europe, Austria has particularly poor husbandry conditions when it comes to keeping pigs.
As mentioned above, the Austrian pig industry wants to avoid an end to slatted flooring at all costs because using straw increases production costs. But doesn't Austria always pride itself on having the highest quality when it comes to food standards? Isn't relying on the cheapest factory farmed meat at odds with this claim?
According to the pig industry, slatted flooring is necessary as Austrian pork would not otherwise be able to compete with the cheap prices from other countries. This is not true, for a number of reasons.
When battery cages for laying hens were phased out in Austria, the market was not flooded with caged eggs imported from other countries. On the contrary, imports of caged eggs have fallen sharply since then. This is because Austrian consumers are prepared to pay more for animal products if they know that they have been produced under better farming practices and that they are from Austria. This would also be the case for pork.
There are already many countries in Europe that have explicitly banned keeping pigs on slatted flooring. These include countries that are known for their higher welfare standards, such as Switzerland and Sweden, but also the larger EU pork producers, such as Denmark and the Netherlands. There are 30 million pigs in Denmark, more than 10 times as many as in Austria, and 90 % of them are exported. And yet they have had a ban on slatted flooring in place since 1 July 2015.
The fact that even the larger EU producers have better standards for their pigs, makes Austria's claim for having the highest quality produce frankly embarrassing.
Are there alternatives to slatted flooring?
Slatted flooring is of course not without alternatives. What other existing systems have in common is that they are less stressful for the pigs – not least because they provide more space.
Pigs are very clean animals, they create a sleeping nest every night separate to a designated toilet place. However, in pens with fully slatted flooring this separation is impossible as there is simply not enough space. They are forced to live day and night above their own excrement and urine.
Partially slatted floor
The simplest alternative to fully slatted flooring is partially slatted flooring or the multi-surface pen. In this set up, a part of the concrete floor is solid and without gaps. Of course the pigs then need a little more space than on the fully slatted floor, because they all need to be able to lie next to each other at the same time. In Austria, 24 % of pigs are kept on partially slatted flooring.
But even a solid concrete floor is hard and uncomfortable. So some kind of bedding material is necessary. This could be straw, sawdust, sand, bark mulch or composted mushrooms. In tests where pigs were able to choose the bedding they preferred, most chose composted mushrooms.
With partially slatted flooring, straw is only put in the solid floor area. The slatted floor area is straw-free and used by the pigs for eating and as the toilet area.
An example for this kind of housing can be found at FairHof. Pigs at Fairhof have exactly twice as much space as on a fully slatted floor. Since the pigs only go to the toilet in the slatted area, the bedding only needs to be changed every 2 to 4 weeks. The costs for keeping the pigs in this system are about 30 % higher than with a fully slatted floor.
Deep straw bedding
Eleven percent of Austria's pigs are allowed to live in deep straw bedding. There is no slatted flooring in this type of housing. This is much better for the animals because they can dig deep in the straw, lie comfortably and even cover themselves with it. On the other hand, this type of husbandry must be managed well as not removing and replacing soiled straw often enough quickly becomes a health hazard for the pigs.
Organic farming, outdoor pigs
Of course, straw bedding is also mandatory in organic farming. However, it is undoubtedly best practice to keep pigs outdoors in fields, where they can engage in their natural behaviours and have access to indoor areas with bedding for resting and sleeping.
The campaign so far
Fully slatted flooring results in pain, suffering and injury for the animals. Thus it contradicts § 5 (2) number 13 of the Federal Animal Protection Act. In addition, this type of flooring does not take into account the physiological and ethological needs of pigs, as demanded in § 13 (2) of the Federal Animal Protection Act. Furthermore, the 2008 EU Minimum Directive for the keeping of pigs requires that flooring for pigs must be
physically comfortable. There can be no question that fully slatted flooring fails to meet the definition of
In Austria, animal protection organisations do not (yet) have the right to bring collective actions. This makes it impossible for them to have this contradiction examined by an independent court.
- Public ombudsman
- Luckily the public ombudsman's office is authorised to raise such questions and in May, public Ombudsman Dr. Kräuter initiated an official investigation into why the provisions of the Animal Husbandry Regulations on fully slatted flooring for pigs do not comply with the 2008 EU Directive on Minimum Requirements.
- Street action
- In spring 2019 VGT campaigners across Austria took to the streets and got creative to highlight the problem to the public.
- Direct mail
- Thousands of homes in Vienna received envelopes with straw and a card with a link to the campaign website: vollspaltenboden.at
- Support of minister
- Minister for Animal Welfare supports VGT demand for an end to fully slatted floors for pigs – Minister for Animal Welfare, Beate Hartinger-Klein gave the campaign her full support making the point that the routine tail docking of pigs, which is carried out in an effort to avoid tail biting resulting from husbandry practices, such as fully slatted flooring, must also end.
- Political debate
- The Vienna Greens supported the campaign by introducing a resolution calling on parliament to ban fully slatted flooring. The Socialist Party also agreed to the resolution and it was adopted by a majority.
- Pig Farmers still prefer slatted flooring
- As politicians expressed their support, groups representing the industry felt the need to justify their position. The chairman of the Association of Austrian Pig Farmers (VÖS), Walter Lederhilger stated that he couldn't understand why a ban on slatted flooring would improve pig husbandry. He argued that slatted flooring was more hygienic. At the same time, however, he spoke of
quality programs [...] which meet high standards [...] [...] for example, products from farms keeping pigs on straw!
- Claims on quality are misleading
- VGT responded to President of the Chamber of Agriculture's criticism that pig farming in the province of Vorarlberg is of the highest EU standard by pointing out that the highest EU standard is, by definition a ban on slatted flooring.
- Climate Strike
- As part of the Climate Strike marches VGT highlighted a scientific study which shows that keeping pigs on slatted flooring results in more greenhouse emissions than keeping them on straw.
- Demonstrations in front of farms
- VGT receives photo and film material showing ill and injured pigs from 3 pig farms in Lower Austria. Campaigners announce demonstrations in front of the farms to display the photos and play the film material. The demos take place despite a death threat from an anonymous caller to the VGT office saying
If you come here, I will kill one of you.
- Dissolution of the coalition government
- The dramatic dissolution of the coalition government following
Ibiza-Gatein May 2019 offered a unique opportunity to push through animal issues which had majorities in both the public and parliament, but had previously suffered under the conservatives' policy to block any progress. On 12 June, a motion to discuss a ban on fully slatted flooring was tabled in parliament with an envisaged transitional period of 10 years. The populist Freedom Party were the only party along with the conservatives to vote against the motion despite having twice in the past spoken in favour of a ban, once in 1994 and again in 2006. The party received negative press as a result along with over 2500 protest emails in the following days. Their response was that they must keep the farmers onboard and in order to do this there needs to be a much longer time for discussion. A curious position to take considering they have had 25 years for discussion! The motion, which included two further proposals; a ban on killing male chicks in the egg industry and the castration of piglets without anaesthesia was tabled again and once again the Freedom Party blocked it. Their insistence that animal welfare was a priority and only the conservatives had thwarted their plans for making improvements during the coalition, was now looking ridiculous.
- Support from retailers
- The populist Freedom Party's excuse not to support a motion to ban slatted flooring and in favour of straw for pigs had to be that it would make production more expensive, resulting in Austrian pork being replaced by imports from abroad. However, REWE, the supermarket with the brands; MERKUR, BILLA, PENNY und ADEG had already made it clear earlier this year that they support a ban. At the end of June, the supermarket chain SPAR also spoke out in favour of a ban assuring that it would look for an industry solution and would definitely not switch to imported pork.