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EU countries fail to meet animal welfare standards

Nine member states failed to meet the deadline on the EU’s animal welfare directive on the housing of pregnant sows, resulting in a distorted and unfair pig industry throughout Europe. The member-states have until next month to comply before further legal procedures are launched.

By Marie-Josée Kelly and Kristine Walkden

 The failure to conform to the EU´s sow housing legislation by January 1st, 2012, has raised speculation over the effectiveness of the implementation of animal-welfare laws.

 The directive was introduced in 2001; member states have had 12 years to implement the legislation, yet of the major pig producing countries, Germany, France and Ireland were reported to be least compliant. Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Poland and Portugal were also targeted by the European Commission earlier this year.

Current state of implementation of partial sow stall ban among EU MS (%)
Bel Bul Cz Est Ire Gre Esp Fr It
Compliance 89 100 99 100 82 82 96 72 99
Lith Lux Hun Mal Pol Port Rom SIn UK
Compliance 100 100 99 90 93 58 100 95 100
D Swe NL Svk Cyp Dk Aus Fin Lat
Compliance 73 100 98 100 63 94 100 98 100
*Data collected until Jan 15; Reported by Agrafacts.

The directive bans the use of individual stalls for housing of pregnant sows during part of their pregnancy while also improving the quality of flooring, increasing living space, allowing sows to have permanent access to materials for rooting, all while providing better training on animal welfare issues for farm personnel.

 Martyn Griffiths of Eurogroup for animals, an animal welfare organization responsible for representing animal welfare interests on EU advisory committees, says that following the implementation of past legislation there is uncertainty concerning the figures presented to the EU in light of the banning of sow stalls.

Martyn Griffiths of Eurogroup for animals has been advocating for animal welfare for over 20 years. Photo: Marie-Josée Kelly
Martyn Griffiths of Eurogroup for animals has been advocating for animal welfare for over 20 years. Photo: Marie-Josée Kelly

 Upon analysis of official reports and action plans produced by Denmark, following the enforcement of EU regulation on the protection of farm animals during transport, Eurogroup concluded that Denmark had “fallen short of a number of requirements contained in the EC Transport Regulation… it failed to comply with the basic EC request for analyses and action plans in addition to reports, it is not able to demonstrate that it has carried out an adequate proportion of inspections.”

 Reliving the past

 A similar animal welfare directive, introduced in 1999, banning the use of battery cages for laying hens and advancing the necessity for cage enrichment came into effect at the start of 2012. Likewise, many farms were late in adhering to the law at the time.

 The European Commission is following the same course of action in the non-implementation of the sow stall ban as it did with the prohibition of battery cages.

 Countries not complying with the requirement have two months to reply and come up with an adequate response to the formal notice letter. If the response is not satisfactory, the European Commission will issue a Reasoned Opinion, which gives the countries two additional months to meet the directive. If after that period, member states are still non-compliant they will be taken before the European Court of Justice.

 The implementation of the laying hens directive was closely monitored after it was found that a significant number of countries had not complied by the deadline which Griffiths believes has influenced the Commission in moving forward with infringement procedures rapidly but that it should have put more pressure on ensuring the deadline was met.

 “The Commission argues that until a law comes into effect they can’t do anything. We think that this is a weakness of the Commission.”

European Commission headquarters in Brussels. Photo: Marie-Josee Kelly
European Commission headquarters in Brussels. Photo: Marie-Josee Kelly

 Obstacles in the way to compliance

 Pig farmers across the EU are putting forth the current economic crisis as an excuse for their inability to comply with the directive on time. Even in Denmark, which has been spared some of the more harsh austerity measures inflicted on its EU counterparts, farmers have encountered difficulties in making the investments when banks have been reluctant to lend them the necessary funds to expand.

 There is some fear that because some pig producers will not be able to afford the investment in new stalls, pork production will be reduced and prices will be increased for European consumers. Member states that are fully compliant with the sow stall ban, such as the United Kingdom, who banned their usage in 1999, are left at a disadvantage competitively because of the investments they have made in order to comply with the recently adopted requirement.

 Henrik Mortensen, Chairman of the Danish Pig Producing Society, acknowledges that Danish pig farmers have encountered troubles with the banks but also extends some of the blame to local governments for making the transition complex. Danish law sets out that in order to make any changes to their farms and barns, farmers must apply for legal permission.

 “Even people who have applied 3 years ago haven’t been able to get the permission from the Danish government,” said Mortensen. “They have made it really tough to build and follow this directive according to their laws.” Some farmers are still awaiting permission to expand.

 Shared responsibility

 Although it is up to governments to ensure that the directive be implemented adequately, retailers and consumers also play an important role in safeguarding animal welfare.

 There is a growing trend across the EU that indicates that more consumers are calling for more transparent pork labelling, according to Griffiths, while a growing number of retailers are pledging not to import illegal pork meat and by-products.

 Mortensen wants the trend to carry on in Denmark.

 “We [Danish pig producers society] hope that [Danish] retailers decide to start a campaign only buy legal meat from farmers who have followed this rule. Then we, Denmark and the slaughterhouses will make more money.”

For more on the situation in Denmark click here.

Minister: Danish sow farmers an “embarrassment”

By Kristine Walkden & Marie-Josée Kelly

Danish pig farmers are criticizing tough licensing processes and lack of support from Danish decision-makers, after being called an “embarrassment” by Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Mette Gjerskov.

The Danish Situation

On an idyllic farm in the countryside of Skanderborg, Danish sow farmer Ole Larsen smiles proudly as he cradles a tiny wide-eyed piglet who was born only a day earlier. The piglet stares at Larsen dumbfounded before being placed back into its crate with 10 others. Larsen explains, “Our farm is animal-welfare friendly. We try our very best to take care and ensure a good life for them.”

Danish sow farmer Ole Larsen has been using group housing for over a decade. Photo: Marie-Josee Kelly
Danish sow farmer Ole Larsen has been using group housing for over a decade. Photo: Marie-Josee Kelly

Larsen is among over 90% of Danish sow farmers who have successfully met the EU’s standards on the directive of the housing of pregnant sows. Approximately 6 percent of sow farmers nationwide are failing to live up to regulations and have three months to do so before having to go before the EU’s court. Larsen changed his system from single-stall housing to group housing in 1999 even before the directive was officially introduced in 2001. He explains that while making the transition was easy back then, today Danish sow farmers are facing difficulties in trying to change their systems.

The biggest problem in Denmark today isn’t just the money or the economy, it’s getting the permission to build. The environmental laws today make it very hard to get a license because they consider so many things,” he said.

“The problem is it takes 3-4 years to do so. We cannot make a business when it takes such a long time to do anything. We need to get that changed if Danish farming is going to continue on.”

Larsen explained that most Danish sow farmers were unable to meet the EU’s deadline because they are still waiting on a building license from their municipal governments after applying 4 years earlier. Though Larsen only had to wait 7 months for his building license back in 1999, he knows from experience how hard it is to get a license today. Larsen said he spent half a million kroner and waited five years until he finally received a license last week to build a new slaughter house.

An embarrassment at the EU

I think frankly, it is embarrassing,” Food Minister Mette Gjerskov told the press after receiving news that Denmark had not fully complied to the sow housing directive. “The Danish farm industry has pressed very hard for me to go to Brussels and wag my finger at all sorts of other countries.”

When some farmers asked for more time to make the changes, Gjerskov showed how seriously she took the directive and animal-welfare legislation by stating on twitter, “No amnesty to farmers that don’t set sows free. They have had ten years to restructure animal welfare.” Later that week, Gjerskov supported the EU Heath and Consumer Commission’s threat to initiate a lawsuit against countries that fail to abide by the EU’s standards of animal-welfare legislation.

Dan Jorgensen, a Danish Social Democrat member of the European Parliament, commented on Denmark’s inability to comply by the January 1st deadline. “I think it is a disgrace especially because we are a country that prides itself on being better than so many other countries on protecting animal-welfare.”

According to Denmark’s Pig Research Centre, there have been a number of recent initiatives undertaken in the country, which will provide continuing momentum in increasing animal-welfare and safety standards within the country’s pig industry. They said in the next years, there will be a movement towards more risk-based control of standards on Danish farms which will provide an incentive for all producers to aim for best practice.

Pig producers turn the blame around

Henrik Mortensen is chairman of the Danish Pig Producers, an association that attempts to influence decision makers through political activities and inform authorities about developments in Danish pig production.

Mortensen said the Danish pig industry has been unfairly punished as he believes Danish farming standards are for the most part, better than other EU countries who have claimed they have fully complied to the directive.

In a public letter to Minister Mette Gjerskov, Mortensen criticized the minister for implying that Danish pig farmers had undermined the country’s position in the EU. Like Larsen, Mortensen said the reason six percent of pig farmers were unable to comply was because “Danish authorities did not prioritize the 2013 requirements relating to the processing of environmental permits.”

Mortensen wrote: “Why have we not a minister in charge of our interests rather than chastise us?…I yearn for politicians who will be based in reality and treating pig and agriculture as valuable contributors to society. Without that, we must always be exposed to arrogance and scorn.”

Mortensen said the Minister has not yet replied to his letter or several other attempts Mortensen has made raising concern about the fairness of the Danish pig market within the country and throughout the EU.

The Danish pig industry has never said it didn’t want this (directive). Where I come from, everyone was planning to be hundred percent ready and figure out how to deal with people that weren’t ready by 2013,” he said. “But the government and systems have made it hard to do so…We had all agreed that we have many years to fulfill this goal and this is the way to go.”

Sows still suffering in EU

By Kristine Walkden and Marie-Josée Kelly

Imagine yourself being cramped inside a crate only as big as your body so you can’t physically stand up or move around for 8 days.

Individual crate where pregnant sows were kept during pregnancy before the EU ban. Photo: Marie-Josee Kelly
Individual crate where pregnant sows were kept during pregnancy before the EU ban. Photo: Marie-Josee Kelly

 This is how Martyn Griffiths, of Eurogroup for Animals, explains the reality that pregnant sows are facing living in a small percentage of farms in Europe, event after the EU’s ban was implemented at the beginning of this year.

 Legal procedures have been launched against nine member states who have yet to comply with animal-welfare legislation that bans single-stall housing by the January 1st deadline while pigs continue to endure poor living conditions.

For more information click here.