EU pig ruling sparks German legal threats

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SOME of Europe’s biggest pig producers, including Germany, France and Spain, could face legal action over their failure to meet a 1 January deadline to implement new European Union animal welfare rules.

A quarter of the bloc’s 12 million sows are still being kept on farms where individual cages – known as sow stalls – remain in use, despite being banned from the start of this year.

The level of compliance is particularly poor among large producers in France, according to data submitted by governments to the European Commission, EU sources said.

“It’s now up to these countries to take action, and in some cases that means closing down whole farms,” said one source.

The Commission, which enforces the rules, is preparing legal action against countries that have yet to meet the deadline, with a formal announcement expected next month.

But despite the prospect of legal action and farm closures, officials said the Commission would oppose any move by EU governments to block imports from countries that failed to meet the deadline.

Last year, the Commission banned the export of eggs from producers who failed to meet a 1 January, 2012 ban on battery cages. But the difficulty in tracing pork meat back to individual producers, especially in processed products such as salami or chorizo, makes a similar ban impossible, officials said.

Sow stalls are metal cages roughly 2m long and 60cm wide. They are used to hem in pregnant pigs during their 16.5 week gestation and make them easier to control.

While some producers say the cages reduce aggression between sows, animal welfare campaigners say the cages – so restrictive that the sow cannot turn around – cause psychological damage.

The EU ban was first agreed in 2001. Britain has had a ban in place since 1999.