Back in 2001, the European Union passed a law telling pig farmers that they must get rid of all their gestation crates by January 1, 2013, and replace them with group housing for pregnant sows. The factory farms had 12 years’ notice.
Most of them missed the deadline anyway.
Flagrantly breaking the law, producers in all but five EU countries are still using gestation crates. Gestation crates (or “sow stalls,” as they call them in Europe) are, as I described in Cruel Gestation Crates Are On Their Way Out,
small metal cages only two feet wide that prevent pregnant pigs from turning around and even lying down comfortably. Sows spend most of their adult lives in these crates as they are inseminated soon after they give birth and thus kept pregnant over four out of every five months. Gestation crates cripple pregnant pigs and cause obesity. The fumes and toxins produced from the concentration of so many animals in one space [who must urinate and defecate where they stand] sicken them (and the humans who “take care of” them). Pigs are smart animals, and the constant confinement, lack of activity or stimulation, and pain lead to neurotic behaviors like biting the bars of their cages over and over, or chewing on nothing.
Pork producers’ failure to obey the law seems to be a surprise to the responsible officials. Stewart Houston, chairman of the British Pig Executive, declared himself “flabbergasted” by the delay, according to Farmers Guardian. “We were amazed because we had been working with the commission all year on this and the messages we were getting was that compliance was much higher,” Houston said.
One has to wonder what the farmers were thinking, because if they had made the change in time, they would have been eligible for FREE MONEY! As if complying with the law and avoiding penalties and possible shut-downs wasn’t enough, the EU offered farmers subsidies of up to 60% of the cost of switching from gestation crates to group housing. And they still missed the deadline. It almost looks like they are flouting the law deliberately.
Whatever their motivations, as National Pig Association chairman Richard Longthorp said: “This makes a mockery of Europe’s animal welfare legislation.” As opposed to imprisonment in sow stalls, where they can only stand up and lie down, the new law would give pigs 2.25 square meters of space (about 24.22 square feet) each in a group environment. This is for animals whose “ideal” weight is 300-350 pounds — that is, after they have been genetically engineered to be far larger than is healthy for them (see photo). The EU law, should it ever be implemented, would allow pregnant sows to be locked into tiny farrowing crates five days before giving birth, and to be crated for the first four weeks of pregnancy. That is still no kind of life, but it would be better for the pigs’ welfare than the current system.
The ban, if it becomes reality, will affect over 13 million breeding sows.
Here is the list of the naughty and the nice — which countries are defying the ban and which are complying. These numbers are from the Farmers Guardian.
Less than 70% compliance: Cyprus (48%), Belgium (45), France (33),Germany (48), Ireland (57), Italy (69), Netherlands (63), Portugal (63).
70-90% compliance: Denmark (85%), Finland (73), Greece (83), Latvia (82), Malta (75), Poland (80), Slovenia (72), Spain (70).
90-99% compliance: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia.
100% compliance: Austria, Estonia, Luxembourg, Sweden, United Kingdom.
Photo credit: Hemera