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Dutch and Danes already on straw, claims Morley

by 5m Editor
17 February 2003, at 12:00am

UK - Animal health minister Elliot Morley has painted a picture of pig production on the continent that will be unrecognisable to many UK pig producers.

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In a debate about the new pig welfare rules, he told MPs that the difference between the UK total stalls ban and the European 75 percent ban in 2013 was "slight".

He questioned whether allowing continental producers to keep sows in stalls for four weeks would give them a management advantage.

And he claimed UK's big competitors, such as Denmark and Holland, had already unilaterally complied with UK's higher standards so as not to be disadvantaged in the marketplace.

Mr Morley was replying to opposition MPs who voiced concern that UK producers would still be disadvantaged even when the European stall ban was introduced in ten years.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) said, "The system here will be different because in the rest of the EU sows can legally be kept in stalls for 25 percent of the gestation period… that must give a competitive advantage in the production costs of pork."

Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire) also questioned Mr Morley's view that the new welfare legislation created a level playing field for UK producers.

"The NPA has properly highlighted the legislative disparities between EU member states, and the resulting competitive disadvantage for United Kingdom industry.

He quoted from an NPA briefing: ''Even if these measures are implemented fully in other member states, our pig producers will still be at a competitive disadvantage. 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 will apply only from four weeks after service until one week before farrowing. This means that, in the rest of the EU, sows can legally be kept in stalls for 25 per cent of the gestation period. Nor will this new EU requirement apply to holdings with fewer than ten sows. So even with efficient enforcement, this legislation will only go some of the way towards a level playing."

Mr. Sayeed also questioned Mr Morley's claim that higher welfare conferred a marketing value. He told the Second Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, "I would dispute whether the purchase of food is predominantly based on animal welfare standards rather than price."

Mr. Wiggin agreed with Mr Morley that "large pig producers abroad comply with our standards". The problem was, he said, that "not all of them always comply".

It could be shown that a certain pig farm in Holland complied, but that did not necessarily mean that the pigs that arrived in the supermarkets of Britain came from that farm.

"Although there are examples of farms complying perfectly with all the standards that we would like, that does not determine whether the pork on our shelves has come from those farms. Produce is country-specific, not farm-specific." This was why, he said, a food labeling bill was so badly needed.

MPs also considered the recent spate of light hearted reports about "toys" for pigs.

"This matter has been trivialised in the way in which it has been reported; but enrichment is an important welfare consideration in the keeping of such intelligent animals as pigs," said Mr Morley.

"The measure reflects good practice that has been in place in this country for a long time. Many people who keep pigs already provide manipulable materials and a range of equipment for pigs for welfare purposes."

He went on to signal reviews of the new EU welfare legislation in 2005 when castration, space allowances and floor types for weaners and rearing pigs) would be considered, and in 2008, when farrowing systems would be looked at.

"It should not be forgotten that farrowing systems are designed specifically to prevent the sow from rolling on piglets.

"Unfortunately, there is some piglet mortality in rearing systems, and crates are designed to prevent that. We have been funding research into alternatives, and some designs have been quite encouraging, but they have not been very successful in commercial use so far.

"Most alternatives have at least double the piglet mortality. We want to do better than that before we encourage a replacement of farrowing crates.

"I believe, however, that we can make progress in time. Even the existing crates have been changed over the years, for example to provide extra room to allow the sow to stand up. I believe that we will have made further progress by 2008."

Concern was expressed by MPs about the pending ban on on-farm burial of fallen stock. Mr Morley claimed the government would not be allowed under EU law to provide a free fallen stock collection service.

He said he had had meetings with the industry, and had offered to work with the livestock sector to put in place a national fallen stock collection service.

"DEFRA is already spending something like 330 million a year on fallen stock collection; it is spent on such things as collecting animals under the over-30 month scheme, and the cattle surveillance project, which also takes a big contribution. We pay for the collection of fallen cattle on farms, and sheep and scrapie, for which we also put in money, are also covered.

"On top of that 330 million, I offered the livestock and farming unions that I would pay for the set-up costs of the administration, up to about 3500,000.

"I think that the 330 million already in place for the contract buying power, the underpinning and the pump priming is a significant contribution, and that 3500,000 to set up the organisation-to allow the industry itself to have a role in applying the standards, thus minimising the costs for people who wish to take part in national collection is a fair offer.

"The industry's view is that that should be paid for by the taxpayer 100 per cent. Under the state aid rules we are not allowed to make a 100 percent contribution-and anyway, I do not think it unreasonable that there should be an industry contribution.

"If the industry is prepared to accept that, the offer still stands. That 330 million, plus the offer of half a million pounds for organisational set-up costs, and the fact that the Department will work with the industry and use our resources to try to put the organisation in place, is a very fair offer."

Source: National Pig Association by Digby Scott - 15th February 2002

5m Editor