British farmers will continue to battle against pig meat imports produced under conditions that are illegal in the UK – despite a European ban effective since 1 January.
Some 13 European countries are set to fall foul of the EU-wide ban on sow stalls – prompting calls for action from politicians and farm leaders across Britain, where use of the stalls has been banned in the UK for the past 13 years.
Some seven countries, including major pig producing nations such as France, Germany and Belgium, are less than 65% ready for the 1 January deadline, according to the latest EU figures. A further group, including Italy, Spain and Poland, is less than 80% prepared.
The European Commission has repeatedly said it cannot take action until after 1 January because until then no rules are being broken. It is due to give an update on the situation at the next EU agriculture council meeting on 28-29 January.
Farm minister David Heath said it was unacceptable for any country to be less than 100% compliant with the ban. “I have personally been given commitments from the main retailers in this country that they will not import meat derived from non-compliant states,” he said.
It was time to level the playing field for British farmers, Mr Heath added. “It is only fair to our producers that if they are expected to comply with high welfare standards, as they should be, others have to do the same.”
Shadow farm minister Huw Irranca-Davies said British producers had gone through “considerable financial pain” to meet higher welfare standards. They had every right to demand that European nations raised their game immediately.
Farm leaders said unless British consumers purchased products from assured schemes, such as the Red Tractor or Specially Selected Pork, they could not know that the pork, bacon and sausages they were eating came from pigs raised in legal systems.
NFU Scotland vice-president John Picken said it was particularly concerning that the EU Commission could not trace pigmeat back to the farm of origin because of the considerable movements that occur between farms from piglet to weaner.
“In an ideal world, we would be in a position to suggest that retailers guarantee products are from legal systems by sourcing only from Scottish and UK farmers.
“However, due to additional costs being shouldered by our farmers in implementing higher welfare for pigs since 1999, and the increased volume of cheaper imports, the UK pig industry has shrunk to such an extent that we can no longer meet that demand.”
By Johann Tasker (Farmers Weekly)