Tail biting is a major welfare and economic problem in intensive pig production. The objectives of this study were to (1) determine tail lesion prevalence at a German abattoir, (2) test for associations between meat inspection findings and tail lesions, (3) assess the agreement between tail necrosis recorded during meat inspection and scored from pictures and (4) test whether the tail biting management tool ‘Schwanzbeiß-Interventions-Programm’ (SchwIP) had an effect on tail lesion prevalence. A total of three observers scored tail lesions from pictures of 43 328 pigs from 32 farms where SchwIP had been applied, and of 36 626 pigs from 32 control farms. Tail lesions were classified as score 0: no visible lesion, score 1: mild lesion, score 2: severe lesion and score 3: necrosis. In addition, complete loss of tail (CL) was recorded. Tail necrosis was the only tail-related carcase finding recorded by meat inspectors. (1) Tail lesion prevalences in pigs from control farms were 23.6% for score 1, 1.02% for score 2, 0.55% for score 3 and 0.41% for CL. The combined prevalence of any lesion and/or CL was 25.4%. (2) Pleurisy, lung findings, signs of inflammation in the legs, arthritis and abscesses were the most frequent meat inspection findings (prevalences of 8.46%, 8.09%, 2.99%, 0.83% and 0.23%, respectively; n=79 954 pigs). Leg inflammation, arthritis and abscesses were more prevalent in pigs with tail lesions of any degree compared with pigs without tail lesions (3.39% v. 2.83%, 1.06% v. 0.75% and 0.39% v. 0.17%, respectively; all P<0.001, n=79 954 pigs). Pigs with severe tail lesions also had more lung findings (2.00% v. 0.17%, P<0.001). (3) Tail necrosis scored during meat inspection resulted in lower prevalence than scored from pictures (0.22% v. 0.69%; n=79 954 SchwIP and control farm pigs). (4) Although tail lesion prevalence was significantly higher in pigs from SchwIP than in pigs from control farms during the first 3 months (32.2% v. 23.8%, P=0.015), it was not significantly higher during the remainder of the year (22.6 v. 26.9, 24.4 v. 21.4 and 24.0 v. 28.0, second, third and fourth quarters, respectively). In conclusion, meat inspection results in much lower tail lesion prevalences than tail lesion assessment from pictures, even if only the category ‘necrosis’ is compared. Advising farms on tail biting using the management tool SchwIP helped to decrease the prevalence of tail lesions on problem farms.