The practice of putting slap marks on pigs to identify them has been vigorously defended in Brussels, but pigmen need to ensure they are making their mark properly.

At present, permanent identification is not required until slaughter as long as piglets are identified with colour marks and a Movement Licence linked to their holding of birth.

The National Pig Association fought off EU calls for permanent identification such as tattooing or ear tagging all young piglets at birth in the wake of the 2001 foot-and-mouth epidemic.

But an abattoir survey by the NPA indicates that few slap marks could be described as good quality and almost a third were poor.

A series of rules for delivering good slap marks have been published to improve on this and help avoid EU calls for compulsory tagging at birth.

Producers should use liquid ink instead of paste, keep inkpads moist in a box and ink the slapper between every pig, which must be slapped on both shoulders.

The NPA has also stressed the importance of ensuring slap equipment is undamaged, kept clean and, where slide-in plates are used, the needle lengths are 2mm longer than standard.

A move to compulsory tagging at birth would pose major problems for outdoor breeders, as ear tagging and tattooing is a stressful procedure for piglets and staff.

Dalehead Foods, the UK’s largest pig slaughterer, has already reported encouraging results from producers using the new slap marking guidelines on pigs going to their Linton abattoir.

Slapping success rate
Good Average Poor
Old method 2% 67% 31%
New method 53% 47% 0%