UK pig producers who converted to sow group housing are lobbying to ensure that farmers, who have not switched over to the new system before the EU’s ban on partial sow stalls takes effect on January 1, 2013, won’t be allowed to sell their pork products, or be given a derogation exempting them from the ban.

So far, only 12 of the European Union’s 27 member states are currently confident that they will meet all the requirements of sow group housing under the partial stall ban – and they include the UK (which has been compliant for the past 14 years), Luxembourg, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Ireland, Hungary, Slovakia and Lithuania.

Sow housing compliance
 It is understood that at least three countries, which have not been named, have indicated that they will not be able to meet the 2013 sow group housing regulations and pig producers in several others are unlikely to reach full compliance in time.

This was revealed at a March meeting arranged by Britain’s National Pig Association and the British Pig Executive between pig producers, members of the European Parliament and European Commission officials in Brussels by Andrea Gavinelli, who heads the Commission’s animal welfare section.

Gavinelli assured delegates, however, that the commission is well aware of the situation and that it would use all the tools available at EU level to push member states to comply with the legislation and ensure consumers were not cheated. “We are increasing our communications with the relevant member states and training up veterinarians and other officials to monitor the changes that are occurring,” he said.

Pointing out that the legislation was worded in such a way that the responsibility of ensuring pig producers converted to sow group housing lay with the member states. The commission could only take action regarding non-compliance against member states (not producers) after the legislation became effective, Gavinelli promises that “appropriate sanctions” would be taken against recalcitrant countries, if necessary.

Animal welfare agenda
 Calling on all European members of parliament to sign his declaration urging the European Commission to resist any calls for further derogations and to stand firm on its animal welfare agenda, George Lyon, MEP, for Scotland and a representative on the EU Parliament’s agricultural committee, said: “We must all stand together on this to show the EC’s health and consumer affairs commissioner John Dalli that he has full political support for a tough stance on this legislation.”

Dalli has already written to all the member states to alert them to the January 1, 2013 deadline and it is understood he will be writing to them again in December. Lyon said he was also inviting representatives from all the major supermarkets to a summit meeting in Brussels in June where “we can look them in the eye and ask them what they will do regarding meat produced in illegal systems next year,” said Dalli.“They hold the key to this, because if they all refuse to source meat from pig producers who have not complied with the legislation, the farmers will either have to convert, or go out of business.”

Promising that he would ask all his National Pig Association members to write to their local MEPs asking them to sign the declaration, Stewart Houston director of the National Pig Association, agreed that the supermarkets could play major role in “persuading” reluctant pig producers to convert to the new production housing systems.

EU pig meat shortages
 Houston also warned of a reduction of EU pig numbers in 2013 with a resultant shortage of pig meat products and rising consumer prices. However, he pointed out that this could provide “a big opportunity for those pig producers remaining in business to make some profit and then reinvest that money back not their businesses to improve production and efficiency.

“Profit improves pig welfare far better than any legislation can,” he added.

UK farming minister, Jim Paice, who was also in Brussels on the day of the National Pig Association meeting, said: “We are proud of the UK pig industry, which has led the way on pig welfare by banning on the use of sow stalls in 1999 – 14 years in advance of the rest of the EU. We are working closely with the pig industry to keep up the pressure on Europe so all countries meet the European ban by January 2013.”

However, observers pointed out that any fines, or other legal action against erring countries would have to imposed via the EU Court of Justice, which could take up to two or three years.

Then there are questions about what happens to the pig meat that is produced from the “illegal systems” after January 1, 2013 and whether it will lead to a two-tier market.

“Realistically, we could be looking at two years before the pig market settles down afterwards,” said new NPA chairman, Richard Longthorp, who urged the Commission to start talking to the European Court of Justice to arrange a fast-track system to deal with member states which had pig producers who had not complied with the law.

Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of the European farm unions’ umbrella body Copa-Cogeca, said: “There will be consequences, but we are not asking for any derogations. We have to stick to the regulations.

“This is the moment of truth when they (consumers and retailers) realize they have to contribute towards (the costs) of animal welfare. All the EU’s talk about animal welfare will be empty words if it does not stick to the rules, especially if imports are brought in from Third Countries to stabilize the market,” he said.

“The EC has had plenty of time to plan for this and it cannot afford to cave in now – and my members all support me.”