Clause that would have led to ‘immediate’ ban on farrowing crates dropped in Commons

A clause that would have resulted in an immediate ban on farrowing crates immediately has been dropped from new animal welfare legislation currently going through parliament. 

The move comes as the Defra Farming Minister and her Labour counterpart both showed they are listening to the industry as they contemplate the future of farrowing systems.

During Committee Stage discussions on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill last week, a clause proposed by Shadow Defra Minister Daniel Zeichner that would ‘end the use of farrowing crates’ was discussed.

Mr Zeichner said farrowing crates were ‘a major concern because they prevent sows from building their nest’.“Alternatives to farrowing crates, many of them designed by British farmers and engineers, are already commercially available in the UK. We should support British ingenuity and pig welfare by requiring the use of these higher-welfare systems,” he said.

However, Mr Zeichner, who has discussed the future of farrowing crates with the NPA, said he was ‘also mindful of the challenges facing pig producers, particularly at the moment’.

“We will press the new clause to a vote, and are signalling our intention to bring in a ban when in government, but I reassure the industry that we will work closely with it to make sure that a ban is introduced in a way that does not damage the industry,” he said.

“We all want higher standards. This goes to the heart of the trade debate. There is no point imposing higher animal welfare standards here if the suffering, and the industry, is merely exported elsewhere.”

Farming Minister Victoria Prentis welcomed Mr Zeichner’s stance, but warned that the new clause would cause an ‘immediate ban’ of farrowing crates.

Mrs Prentis, who had sought comment from NPA chief executive Zoe Davies a few days before the discussion, clarified that the Government’s stated aim was for farrowing crates to no longer be necessary.

But she also made it clear that Defra was not pushing for an immediate ban stating that ‘without full consideration of the implications for animal welfare and the pig sector would have a significant impact on the industry’.

She quoted Dr Davies directly as saying: “To suggest an immediate ban on the use of farrowing crates would be the final straw for the majority of indoor producers and would trigger a mass exodus from the pig sector, thus exporting production to countries with lower welfare standards. Far better to work with the sector on a longer term transition, which we have already begun.”

Mrs Prentis, before requesting that the clause was withdrawn, said: “Moving overnight entirely to free-farrowing systems would require a fundamental change for pig producers, and significant investment. I am keen to ensure we have a realistic phasing-out period that is sustainable for the industry, so that we can achieve the welfare goals shared by Members from across the House.”

The question is when?

Mr Zeichner acknowledged that he ‘did not disagree with Zoe’. “The question is: when? That is the problem. I will speak to her (Zoe) about this in a few days’ time,” he said.

“I have made it absolutely clear that we would not make this change without working with the industry to ensure that the dangers the Minister mentioned, of which we are all aware, do not come to pass.”

The NPA has been working with companies and organisations across the pig sector to gauge the industry’s position on what wouldn’t be acceptable under any ban on conventional farrowing crates.

Dr Davies said: “We are pleased that the clause has been thrown out and, it was good to hear both sides – Government and Opposition – showing awareness of the potential unwanted consequences of banning farrowing crates and desire to work with industry, proving that our lobbying has indeed been successful.

“They are talking to us and more importantly, listening. Members can rest assured that even though we focus on the day-to-day problems the industry is facing, we continue to push hard on this and many other important issues at the same time.”

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.