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Norwegian police weigh animal cruelty charges against pig farmers

Police are looking into violations of Norway’s Animal Welfare Act after a report exposed that over half of 582 pig herds inspected did not meet requirements for the humane treatment of livestock.

(CN) — A Norwegian special police unit known as Økokrim is looking into whether hundreds of pig farmers should be charged after a report found widespread violations of the country's Animal Welfare Act.

“Those cases, which are assumed to qualify for a prison sentence, must be reported,” Tone Strømsnes Olsen, who investigates animal welfare crimes at Økokrim – the common name for Norway's National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime – told Norwegian radio P4 news on Thursday.

“Animals are silent and defenseless. They cannot express what they are exposed to,” she added.

The statement comes after the Norwegian Food Safety Authority published an alarming report on Tuesday showing there were rule violations in more than half of all the 582 pig herds inspected within the farming industry over the past two years.

“The fact that we find regulatory violations in more than half of the pig herds is not good enough,” said Ingunn Midttun Godal, managing director of the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. "It is the animal keeper's responsibility to ensure good welfare for the pigs. In order to ensure a lasting good recovery in the pig industry, the entire network around animal farmers must contribute.”

According to the report, almost one in four farmers did not meet legal requirements for taking care of sick and injured animals.

One in three farmers violated rules for root material – which pigs use to push their snout into for comfort and other reasons – and around one in four did not provide litter in a satisfactory matter, which has a significant impact on pigs’ well-being, according to the report.

“We see that animal welfare on a national basis can get an important boost if the requirements for root material and litter are complied with,” said Godal.

The report is not all bad. Despite the alarming number of breaches, many pig producers are succeeding with compliance. Some even go well beyond the minimal requirements of the regulations.

Pig farmer Bredo Våland from Jæren, located in western Norway, wished the report had focused more on those who did well.

“It is never good what the Norwegian Food Safety Authority finds, but all pig farmers are punished for this,” he told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. "If someone does something wrong in another profession, then the focus is on the person who has done something wrong. But in the farming profession, the entire industry is criticized.”

Tor Grobstok, ethologist and spokesman for the Network for Animals' Freedom, a Norwegian animal rights organization, said that authorities are not doing enough to report offenses committed in the industry.

“Animal welfare in the Norwegian pig industry is unsustainable. When the majority of Norwegian pig producers are not even able to comply with today's weak regulations, it shows that the pig industry is out of control,” he told NRK.

Sandra Borch, Norway’s ministry of agriculture and food, is looking into the report published by the Food Safety Authority. She said the knowledge gained from the investigation “must be put to good use.”

“The government takes animal welfare seriously and we have started work on an animal welfare report that will come out next year. We have also prioritized strengthening the Norwegian Food Safety Authority. This is important for food safety and animal welfare throughout the country,” Borch said in a statement Wednesday.

Only a few weeks have passed since one of Norway’s latest pig farm horror stories. On Christmas Eve, 276 pigs were found dead on a farm in Nordland in northern Norway, according to news outlet VG.

An apparent water leakage flooded a barn, leaving pigs living in it helpless for survival. Labeled a “tragedy” by the police, they said some pigs may have been lying dead for some time. The farmer is charged with violating the Animal Welfare Act. It is unclear where the leakage came from.

And just last week, 200 pigs were found dead on a farm in Trøndelag, located in southern Norway. The owner of the farm was charged with gross violation of the Animal Welfare Act, VG reported.

NRK reported last November that Norwegians’ meat consumption is growing. In 2021, the average person ate 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of meat, an increase of 6% from the year before. Red meat and pork account for 76% of Norway’s total meat consumption.

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