Pig producers have struck a legislative victory after a clause seeking to ban farrowing crates immediately was dropped by the government.
During Committee Stage discussions on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill last week, a clause proposed by the Shadow Defra Minister that would ‘end the use of farrowing crates’ was removed.
Daniel 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," he said.
"We should support British ingenuity and pig welfare by requiring the use of these higher-welfare systems."
Pig producers have frequently raised fears over the costly transition away from farrowing crates, which they say could force many out of business.
The primary purpose of the farrowing crate is to prevent the sow from rolling on and crushing her piglets.
The crate also enables stockpersons to work easily and safely around the sow and her piglets, during a time when sows can be particularly aggressive.
The National Pig Association (NPA) has said that an immediate ban would trigger a 'mass exodus' from the pig sector.
Speaking during the Committee Stage discussions, Defra farming minister Victoria Prentis warned that M Zeichner's clause would have had a 'significant impact on the industry'.
She clarified that the government "was considering the case for further reforms in this area" and that its 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."
Mrs Prentis, before requesting that the clause was withdrawn, said: “Moving overnight entirely to free-farrowing systems would require a fundamental change for pig producers, and significant investment.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 NPA has been working with organisations across the sector to gauge its position on what wouldn’t be acceptable under any ban on conventional farrowing crates.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We are pleased that the clause has been thrown out and, it was good to hear both sides showing awareness of the potential unwanted consequences of banning farrowing crates.
“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.”