An excellent article in the Guardian has highlighted the need for the lessons of the 1999 sow stall ban as we negotiate our post-Brexit future.
The article by Tom Levitt, which can be viewed here, features recollections from some of key industry figures of the time, including former NPA stalwarts Stewart Houston and Ian Campbell.
Ian recalled how producers were initially confident that ‘it was all going to be fine’, as they invested in new facilities, with assurances from retailers that they would make it a requirement for farmers not to use the crates.
But with a rise in the value of the pound and a glut of pig meat in Europe, the retailers appeared to forget about the requirement, and began to import cheaper Dutch, Danish and German pig meat, where the animals continued to be confined.
“Price was more important, so they didn’t stick with British producers at a time when we really needed them to,” said Ian, who lost his processor contract as demand for British pig meat fell away. He was forced to sell his slaughtered pigs for half the price on the open market and the owners closed down the unit soon afterwards.
Stewart described the ‘perfect storm’ for the pig industry that also featured the 2000 classical swine fever and 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak and the post-BSE meat and bonemeal ban.
Across the rest of the EU, it was not until 2013 that a partial ban on the use of stalls was brought in, although it still allows pigs to be confined to individual stalls for a further four weeks after being separated from piglets post-weaning. Meanwhile, producers in Brazil, Canada and in many US states are still allowed to keep sows in stalls their whole life, the article points out.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “All we ended up doing [with the stall ban]is giving more money to pig producers in Europe to re-invest in their stall systems.”
Pig World editor Alistair Driver recalled that: “The line from the government at the time was that farmers would get a premium from the market for the higher standard. But this didn’t materialise and what actually happened was that the big retailers continued to quite legally import pig meat from countries still using sow stalls.”