British pig producers have raised concern following news that MEPs may introduce new legislation paving the way for a ban on the use of cages in EU farming.
The EU Parliament’s Agriculture Committee urged the Commission on 21 May to propose a revision of existing rules on the protection of animals kept for farming purposes.
These changes would phase out the use of cages, including farrowing crates and insemination stalls, after ‘an appropriate transition period and a solid, scientific impact assessment, possibly by 2027'.
The UK's National Pig Association (NPA) said an EU-wide ban 'now looks inevitable', but the 2027 start date was 'completely unrealistic'.
The industry body also warned that the changes would 'effectively wipe out EU pig production'.
Defra recently confirmed it was considering the case for further reforms on areas such as the use of farrowing crates, as it launched its new Animal Welfare Action Plan.
But the NPA said that its position was that UK 'does not need a ban' and that a voluntary transition would be 'far less destructive'.
On Friday 21 May, MEPs explained that alternatives to cage farming existed and were being successfully implemented in a number of member states.
These alternative systems should be further improved and encouraged at national level, but EU legislation was needed to ensure a level-playing field for farmers across the bloc, they added.
The draft resolution was approved in the Agriculture Committee by 39 votes in favour to four against, with three abstentions.
It will now have to be scrutinised by the European Parliament as a whole, most likely during the 7-10 June plenary session.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the development highlighted that the pressure to phase out farrowing crates was not just coming to the UK.
"An EU-wide ban now looks inevitable, but the 2027 date, which has been proposed by welfare groups, needs to be taken with a massive pinch of salt.
“That is clearly not ‘gradual phasing’. Given our initial assessment of the sheer scale of the work required just for the UK alone, 2027 is a completely unrealistic target date, which would effectively wipe out EU pig production."
She added: "We, and our EU farming colleagues at COPA, believe that in order to allow a sensible transition, we need to be looking at more like 30 years.
“As far as the UK is concerned, our position is that UK does not need a ban and that a voluntary transition would be far less destructive."
If the UK did end up with a ban, either of new crates or new and existing ones, then it must ensure a sensible transition period, Ms Davies said.
"And, as proposed at EU level, comprehensive support for producers to help manage that transition.
"It will also be absolutely critical that some form of temporary crating is permitted to ensure piglet survival.
“In addition, we would need measures, possibly legislative, to ensure the same standards apply to imports," she added.