The government has announced a consultation into ending the use of cages for laying hens and crates for farrowing sows following a petition by campaigners.
Defra faming minister Victoria Prentis confirmed that the government will bring forward the consultation, but no timeline was given.
Speaking at a parliamentary debate on Monday (20 June), she said Defra was committed to phasing out confinement systems and supporting the industry to do so.
However, the minister stressed that it had been an extremely difficult year for the UK pig sector due to the severe on-farm backlog, surging costs and low prices.
“The pig sector also gives us the clearest evidence of what happens when we ban a system without having a plan to help the industry through it," she said.
"The ban on sow stalls 23 years ago led to a 40% decline in the UK’s pig production statistics, which, truthfully, we have never recovered from."
Ms Prentis also said that the UK must not offshore "animal welfare harms", because that would "do the pig world as a whole no good at all".
"There are difficulties—we are bound by World Trade Organisation rules, of course—but active work is being done to establish how, if we banned a system here, we could ban imports from that system. We are working hard on that, but these things are not easy."
She confirmed the consultation on pig farrowing crates was "not quite ready, particularly the impact assessment on costs, and this is an industry that has really struggled over the past year."
“The consultation is still being worked on and clearly further work is needed. I am very much in touch with the pig industry, as we come through what has been a very difficult period. We continue to work collectively.”
The minister added: “We need to work carefully and sensitively with the pig and poultry industries, which are both struggling with some difficult input costs and other challenges at the moment.”
The European Commission voted in June 2021 to phase out cages for all farm animals across the continent by 2027
It follows over 109,000 people signing a parliamentary petition, led by Deborah Meaden, star of the TV series Dragon's Den and Compassion in World Farming patron, urging the UK government to do the same.
James West, senior communications manager at Compassion said: “The announcement by the minister that consultations will be launched is an important next step but a clear timeline must be set.
"We look forward to having the opportunity to make the case for phasing out these cruel systems in response to the consultations, so the UK can finally End the Cage Age."