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Did UK Implement Higher Animal Welfare Too Soon?

by 5m Editor
17 January 2012, at 10:32am

UK - Compassion in World Farming was disappointed to hear David Cameron’s lack of support for the UK bringing in higher welfare systems, ahead of the legal obligatory time and subsequently leading the way in farm animal welfare.

Speaking on Sunday night’s Countryfile on BBC television, The Prime Minister gave his view on the UK’s legislation, accusing the nation of implementing changes too soon. This is a kick in the teeth to all those who work tirelessly to improve the welfare of millions of farm animals.

The use of sow stalls on UK pig farms has been outlawed since 1999, and a partial ban on their use will be coming into place across the EU in 2013. David Cameron said of the ban: "There has been a tendency in Britain, and all governments have done this, to jump into putting the changes [in place] in advance of the actual legal necessity and, as a result sometimes we’ve actually exported, for example a lot of our pig production, to other European countries. But if we’d put in place the changes at the same time as others, our pig farmers would have had a more level playing field."

To which Compassion in World Farming’s Chief Policy Advisor, Peter Stevenson responded: "I share the Prime Minister’s concerns that British farmers should not be subjected to unfair competition. However industry figures show that the UK ban on sow stalls, which came into force in 1999, added just 2 pence to the cost of producing a kilo of pig meat. There were many other reasons that British pig farmers’ costs were so much higher than those of their continental competitors at the turn of the century – the main factors being, the then strength of sterling, and also the fact that we had, because of BSE, banned the use of meat and bone-meal in animal feed, whereas the continent had not yet introduced such a ban. The sow stall ban cannot be blamed for putting British pork producers at a serious disadvantage."

In much of the world it is common for a pregnant sow to be kept in a sow stall during her 16-week gestation period. A sow stall is a metal crate or cage, usually with a bare slatted floor, which is so narrow that the sow cannot turn around and can only stand up and lie down with difficulty.

Although outlawed in the UK and Sweden, sow stalls are still in wide use in Europe. From 2013, they will be banned across the EU, except for during the first 4 weeks of gestation.

Pregnant sows kept indoors in sow stalls have no access to the outdoors and are deprived of normal movement and activity. Such confinement increases abnormal behaviour such as sham chewing and bar-biting, indicating severe frustration and stress, and sows in crates can exhibit behaviour likened to clinical depression.

Mr Cameron however did go onto say that the EU should crack down on countries flouting welfare regulations: "What we should do with other European countries is take them to court if they don’t put in place the changes they signed up to. We all sit there on the Agricultural Council and we all agree these rules on pig stalls and rules on hen cages and if they don’t put those in place they are in breach of the rules. And so we should have no compunction in getting the European commission to really target those countries. That is what the European Union is for."

Compassion is currently working to ensure that the January 2012 battery cage ban is adhered to and will be campaigning in the build-up of January 2013, to ensure that the sow stall ban is carried out throughout the EU. Compassion in World Farming would like to see Cameron taking a stronger line on animal welfare and support us in our fight for a better life for all farm animals.