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EU Must Learn from Cage Ban, Say Pig Producers

18 January 2012, at 9:44am

EU - NFU Scotland has met EU Commission animal welfare staff asking that lessons be learned from the debacle that surrounded recent laying hen legislation ahead of the deadline for implementation of similar welfare-driven rules on sow stalls at the end of 2012.

When the deadline on meeting EU specifications on laying hen cages came into force on 31 December 2011, a huge proportion of European egg units - accounting for 14 per cent of EU egg production - were in breach of the rules, despite having 12 years to prepare. By comparison, in Scotland, only one farm accounting for less than 0.2 per cent of the laying flock has yet to meet the deadline.

NFU Scotland and the National Pig Association (NPA) were in Brussels earlier this week (Monday, 16 January) seeking reassurances from the Commission on improved compliance and stricter enforcement when the sow stall ban is introduced across Europe at the end of 2012. They met with the head of the Commission’s Animal Welfare Unit, Mr Andrea Gavinelli, and his staff.

Speaking after the meeting, NFUS’s Pigs Working Group Chairman, Philip Sleigh said: “Compliance in the UK with the forthcoming sow stall legislation is not an issue as a ban on the use of sow stalls was unilaterally introduced in here January 1999.

"However, it is in the interests of every single UK pig producer that Europe works harder on bringing the ban into place across the whole of Europe as intended and that the mistakes made in introducing the laying cage ban, where compliant producers risk being disadvantaged, are not repeated.

“Our discussions with Mr Gavinelli and his staff were positive and focussed on compliance and enforcement of the ban to ensure that from January 2013 onwards, UK producers do not have their home market undermined by illegally produced European pigmeat.

“However, it was clear from our discussions with Mr Gavinelli that enforcing the sow stall ban across the EU remains a challenge. The Commission claims that the levels of cross-border movement of pigs between Member States for processing will make tracing illegally produced pigmeat difficult.

“While we appreciate that this may be difficult, we discussed this issue with the Commission in October 2011 and we pointed out to Mr Gavinelli yesterday that he has less than 12 months in which to address the problem.

"We urged him to put an increased level of commitment and resource into ensuring a blanket introduction of the sow stall ban across the EU and that systems were introduced that were able to clearly identify whether pigmeat came from legal or illegal systems.

“Scottish and UK producers deserve no less. Since sow stalls were banned here in 1999, pig producers have endured significant competitive disadvantages with many retailers and food manufacturers choosing to import pork produced to lower welfare standards. It is a sad fact that since the sow stall ban came into force; the Scottish pig industry has contracted by 50 per cent.

“Meanwhile pigmeat consumption has actually gone up but instead of our farmers producing it, our supermarket shelves have a wide selection of EU pork and bacon, produced in systems that are illegal here. NFUS is adamant that introduction of new rules across Europe must be rigorously enforced to deliver our producers a level playing field with their European competitors by the end of the year.

“The Commission, politicians and the retailers perhaps need to remind themselves that the removal of sow stalls and perceived welfare improvements were consumer-led. The wholesale introduction of the sow stall ban across the whole of Europe is an opportunity to address that and any ongoing failings in delivering such welfare legislation must be explained to the public.

“Recent events around laying cages for hens simply emphasise the need for Europe to work harder at encouraging conversion out of sow stalls and to put in place legislative measures to avoid compliant Scottish producers being disadvantaged once the ban on sow stalls comes into force.“