ANALYSIS - The ban on the use of sow stalls within the European Union is just three weeks away, writes ThePigSite Senior Editor Jackie Linden.
A topic of some discussion within the pork industry is the expected level of slaughter and output for various players on the world stage in the coming year, according to industry experts, Steve Meyer and Len Steiner.
They highlight particularly EU-27 pig numbers, given the 1 January deadline for eliminating sow gestation stalls. The EU ban applies to the period from four weeks post-breeding to one week pre-farrowing. They say that no-one has a very good idea of just how this major change in allowable production technology is going to play out.
First, there is the question of just how widespread compliance will be on 1 January. They refer to reports that some countries will be 100 per cent compliant while others may have no more than 40 per cent of their production in compliance. Regardless of the numbers, it is clear that not nearly all of the farms in the EU will have sows in some sort of group housing by 1 January.
This begs their second question. What happens to the pigs from farms that are not compliant?, Meyer and Steiner ask.
Based on the experience of the egg industry following the ban on conventional battery cages, which came in across the EU on 1 January 2012, considerable market disruption may be expected immediately after the ban was introduced - but not in all countries and the market may settle again within a few months. Overall, a cut of five to 10 per cent in EU pig meat volume has been forecast; the resulting likely boost in producer prices would be welcomed, of course, by those farmers whose facilities comply with the new rules. This includes the UK, where sow stalls have been banned for more than a decade.
As for pigs from farms that do not comply with the new regulations after 1st January, they will likely continue to be marketed in the country of origin. The rules prohibit their meat from being sold to other EU countries but presumably, it could be exported to third countries. Again, based on the experience of the egg industry after the battery cage ban, no major breaches of this rule have been reported.
The impacts on the pig meat markets may depend on the commitment and regulatory ability of the individual countries to inspect facilities, to hold to account those that are not compliant and to trace pork product on the market.
The sow stall ban is an reachable goal - but only time will tell if it will be achieved in practice.