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NPA wins easing of new welfare burden

by 5m Editor
16 January 2003, at 12:00am

UK - New welfare rules due to be introduced this month threatened to put many pig producers out of business - but some of the worst excesses have now been modified following line-by-line negotiations between National Pig Association and Defra.

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THE VOICE OF THE UK PIG INDUSTRY

NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & White-hall, and with pro-cessors, supermarkets & caterers – fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

The total cost to the industry will still run into millions of pounds a year and NPA is keen to ensure MPs understand as much.

A major problem facing many producers was the draft wording of the "manipulable materials" rule, which insists all producers provide pigs with organic material to play with.

Producers feared this would created blockages and subsequent low welfare conditions in slatted accommodation, and would make continued production untenable.

But following talks with Defra the new national Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Pigs has been amended to give a wider definition of "manipulable materials" than originally planned.

This will mean some producers won't have to resort to buying special dispensers after all - a measure which would have cost the industry over a year.

"We believe Defra have worked hard with the industry to get a national code that is workable," said North Lincolnshire producer John Godfrey who chaired a special NPA task force to combat gold-plating in Defra's proposed new national welfare code, which is being updated to reflect new EU welfare rules.

"But we remain extremely concerned that most of Europe will not comply with the new EU welfare regulations despite assurances from both the Commission and our Ministers that they will be made to.

"For instance British producers will follow the new weaning rules to the letter but I am highly sceptical that Mediterranean producers will easily give up their custom of weaning at less than 21 days."

John Godfrey also wonders whether routine tail docking will be genuinely banned on the continent. He points out that Britain producers are unusual in voluntarily adopting a higher-welfare approach to tail-biting problems.

"Many of our producers remove only the tip of the tail, where there are very limited nerve ends, which is obviously preferable to routinely carving off the tail at the base," he said.

NPA remains particularly sensitive to any suggestion by government that the new EU welfare regulations will even up the playing field through Europe

UK unilateral legislation banned stalls in January 1999 but the EU stalls ban will not be implemented by most continental producers for another ten years and applies only from four weeks after service until one week before farrowing.

"Europe can never catch up. British producers will always be disadvantaged," stressed British Pig Executive chief executive Mick Sloyan.

By allowing sows to be kept in stalls for four weeks after service, regardless of welfare implications, the EU is extending a considerable easy-management bonus to continental producers.

More importantly, as far as the competitiveness of British producers is concerned, it ensures the investment producers have to make in loose housing will be some 25 per cent less than the investment British producers made five years ago as a result of unilateral UK legislation.

The new welfare regulations have been laid before Parliament and will be debated in the House of Commons on February 4.

NPA will be briefing MPs to ensure they understand that notwithstanding the changes Defra have made following talks, the British pig industry will still be competitively disadvantaged by the new rules, says NPA policy manager Ann Petersson.

"Despite these higher standards adopted by our producers, experience has shown that this has not generally lead to a marketing advantage.

"Ministers must redouble their efforts for an international concensus on animal welfare, to ensure that imported pigmeat also derives from pig producing countries with high welfare standards."

Defra's original assessment of the cost to producers indicated an upper level of c. 311.5m a year. Following a robust response by NPA they now accept that a more accurate figure is c. 314.5m, a 26 percent increase.

Some of the key changes following NPA intervention

  • "All pigs must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of material such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such, to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities." (Welfare regulations.)
Becomes…
  • "To enable proper investigation and manipulation activities, all pigs must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of material such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such which does not adversely affect the health of the animals."
And this…
  • "Straw is recommended as the best material for environmental enrichment as it can satisfy many of the pigs' behavioural and physical needs: it provides a fibrous material which the pig can eat; the pig is able to root in and play with long straw; and, when used as bedding, straw can provide the pig with physical and thermal comfort. Research and practical experience have shown that objects, such as chains and footballs, do not satisfy the pigs' behavioural needs and quickly lose their novelty factor. The long-term use of such items is not, therefore, recommended. Objects should only be used in conjunction with materials, such as those listed in the box above [straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture] unless they can demonstrate that they allow the pigs to carry out their proper investigation and manipulation activities." (Draft national Welfare Code.)
Becomes this…
  • "Environmental enrichment provides pigs with the opportunity to root, investigate, chew and play. Straw is an excellent material for environmental enrichment as it can satisfy many of the pigs' behavioural and physical needs. It provides a fibrous material which the pig can eat; the pig is able to root in and play with long straw; and, when used as bedding, straw can provide the pig with physical and thermal comfort. "Objects such as footballs and chains can satisfy some of the pigs' behavioural needs, but can quickly lose their novelty factor. The long-term use of such items is not, therefore, recommended unless they are used in conjunction with materials such as those listed above, or are changed on a weekly basis."
Stewart Houston, chairman of NPA Producer Group, has congratulated the association's welfare task force for the detailed work it has put into persuading Defra to amend the wording of the new regulations and the revised national welfare code.

Source: National Pig Association - 16th January 2003

5m Editor