The European Commission is facing another debacle in the New Year as a result of its failure to impose new animal welfare rules which are due to come into force on 1 January.
Only five of the 27 member states in Europe will be compliant with legislation banning sow stalls and tethers which became enshrined in European law 13 years ago but has been largely ignored by most countries.
The new rules were imposed on UK pig farmers as far back as 1999 at great cost to the industry and pig farmers have had to compete with pork products and bacon imported from countries where farmers have not had to bear the cost of compliance.
The only other countries believed to be fully compliant are Austria, Estonia, Luxembourg and Sweden while Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Czech Republic and Slovakia are understood to be almost there.
But Denmark and the Netherlands, both major suppliers to the UK market, have a long way to go and France appears to have largely ignored the legislation with a compliance rate of only 30 per cent.
The commission has done little to enforce the new rules except send out warning letters and, in an amazing admission, said it had no means of tracing the origins of pigmeat and that only production systems were deemed illegal and not the meat produced from them.
The UK farmers’ unions have been warning all year of the likelihood of non-compliance but the commission seems to have learned nothing from a similar debacle a year ago when 13 countries failed to meet the deadline to outlaw conventional battery cages for laying hens.
NFU Scotland is appealing to major supermarkets to ensure that pigmeat imports are only from countries complying with the regulations. Consumers are also being urged to insist on pork, bacon and sausages produced under recognised assurance schemes if they want to be sure they are buying products from pigs raised in production systems which are legal and adhering to EU animal welfare regulations.
“It is hard to understand that the commission cannot ensure identification of pigmeat from legal units, given all the measures in place to provide traceability of meat products,” said union vice-president, John Picken.
“That is why it is crucial that shoppers buy and source products from systems, including the Specially Selected Pork brand, which meet the rules. We have asked retailers to clarify whether their own systems give a robust assurance that all imported products will be coming from legal systems after 1 January.”
Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, a member of the European Parliament’s agricultural committee, has called for a ban on imports from countries failing to meet the rules but Picken admits that the UK pig industry would be unable to meet consumer demand if a total ban is imposed.
“Due to the additional costs our pig farmers have had to shoulder implementing higher welfare standards since 1999 and an increased volume of cheaper imports, the UK pig industry has shrunk to such an extent that we could no longer meet that demand,” said Picken.
“It is more important than ever for retailers to get behind our farmers by stocking Scottish or British pigmeat, or from equivalent EU systems.”
Specially Selected Pork is endorsed by the SSPCA because of the high welfare standards adopted by Scottish pig farmers.