The Government is looking to work with the industry to phase out the use of farrowing crates on pig farms, Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers has confirmed.
She believes the process of moving to alternative systems could be supported by funding under the post-Brexit ‘public goods’ agricultural policy.
The NPA has this week launched a survey for members on farrowing crates and the issues surrounding alternatives to inform its arguments, ahead of what looks likely to be an increased focus on the use of the equipment on UK pig farms.
Before they became Defra Ministers, Mrs Villiers and Zac Goldsmith backed Compassion in World Farming’s ‘End the Cage Age’ campaign, which includes a call to ban farrowing crates. The policy aim was a welcome omission from the Conservative manifesto ahead of the December General Election.
But questioned on her stance on the issue at January’s Oxford Farming Conference, Mrs Villiers said: “Certainly, both Zac and I want work with the agriculture sector to see if we could move towards a point where could start to phase out these methods of production.
“We know that will take some time, but I continue to believe that, with the right support through the Environmental Land Management Scheme and our replacement for the CAP, we can see a steady increase in animal welfare standards.”
She was also asked whether the Government would ensure that, if it did ban farrowing crates, it would also ban pork imports produced using the system, especially given that sow stalls are still used in the US, more than two decades after they were outlawed in the UK.
Mrs Villiers acknowledged this was ‘another thing we must ensure we bear in mind when we are concluding trade negotiations’.
“It is very important that we defend our standards of animal welfare at the negotiating table with other countries and that is what our manifesto commits us to do.”
The new Pig Welfare Code clearly states Defra’s desire to phase out crates, stating that: “The aim is for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary and for any new system to protect the welfare of the sow, as well as her piglets.”
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the NPA was opposed to a ban of farrowing crates. “This debate is clearly not going away, however,” said .
“Whilst we are supportive of producers using and wishing to move to alternative systems, the NPA will fight any attempts to ban farrowing crates and force people to move to systems that impact the welfare of both piglets and staff, without financial support from the Government or the supply chain.”
The NPA is asking members to complete its survey on the future of farrowing crates to gauge current thinking on the appetite for alternative farrowing systems, and explore the challenges and costs involved.
Mrs Villiers also said during her appearance at Oxford that the Government would be consulting on improving the welfare of animals in transport.
“We do want to see an end to excessively long distance journeys and, in introducing those changes, we hope that will, broadly speaking, see an end to live exports oversees.
“But we do realise that we need to proceed on the basis of evidence, which is why we have taken advice from the Farm Animal Welfare Committee. We will be carrying out a further consultation on the best way to do this in order to deliver the commitment we have made in our manifesto to cut down on excessively long distance transport,” she said.