The United Kingdom has stricter livestock welfare laws than most countries inside and outside of the European Union, and a recent investigation by theGuardiannewspaper found that a quarter of meat and poultry sold in the country comes from foreign farms that do not meet UK animal welfare standards.
UK agricultural groups are calling for better labeling of imported products and a move to make standards more uniform across the European Union.
"If consumers know anything about it, they probably think all the standards are the same," said Kevin Pearce, head of food and farming at the National Farmers Union. "We want to be able to compete fairly. If the customers say 'that's the standard we want', we want to do our best to produce it. Where we have a problem is if the price is too high or the supply too short, they'll go elsewhere to get it."
According to his organization, half of the pork production that feeds the United Kingdom moved to other countries after UK laws went into effect prohibiting sow pens and tethering. The Guardian confirmed that more than 50% of bacon and 43% of pork comes from countries that allow sows to be housed in smaller pens.
UK standards allow about 15 full-size chickens (38 kilograms total) per square meter of housing, while EU standards permit about 20 full-size birds (about 50 kilograms total) in the same space, the Guardian reported.
Organic certification standards also pose issues. The United Kingdom’s largest certifying body requires pigs to have free access to the outdoors and limits the size of poultry flocks to 500. Other certifying bodies permit limited outdoor access for pigs and do not put caps on the size of poultry flocks, the newspaper reported.