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Attempt to ban farrowing crates in UK Agriculture Bill rejected

A Labour MP unsuccessfully attempted to insert an amendment into the Agriculture Bill banning farrowing crates before the Bill is ratified.

7 March 2020, at 8:00am

According to reporting from the NPA, during Committee Stage debates in the House of Commons, Cambridge Labour MP Daniel Zeichner tabled a, “probing amendment” that would, “end the use of sow farrowing crates, subject to delayed commencement at the discretion of the Secretary of State.”

The new clause would allow for a phasing out of farrowing stalls while making resources and financial support available to farmers who want to improve the conditions of farrowing sows.

Zeichner acknowledged that the amendment was a, “contentious subject”, he stated that, “the public take the issue seriously and we would all like it to be achieved over time.”

The amendment was rejected by other MPs on the committee, with the industry position on farrowing crates receiving strong opposition from former Defra Minister Robert Goodwill and new Defra Minister Victoria Prentis, both of whom had been briefed by the NPA on farrowing crates.

Mr Goodwill cited fears that, “history might repeat itself, and the law of unintended consequences may come into play,” if the UK unilaterally banned farrowing crates, referring to the ill-fated 1999 sow stall ban.

Sow stalls were outlawed in the UK in 1999, leading to unintended market consequences
Sow stalls were outlawed in the UK in 1999, leading to unintended market consequences

“When dry sow stalls were banned in 1999, there was an erosion of the British pig market, particularly by such countries as Denmark and Holland where dry sow stalls were still being used. Indeed, most of the EU still allows dry sow stalls from up to four weeks after service to birth, when in some cases they may be put into farrowing crates as well,” he said.

“My concern is that, were we to act unilaterally through legislation, we could end up having more pigs coming into the country as imports.”

Ms Prentis confirmed that the Government was committed to phasing out farrowing crates. She did emphasise that, “it would not be right to end the use of such crates without examining all the evidence around their use and considering all the options. It is important to recognise how they protect piglets, for example.”

She highlighted that alternative farrowing systems are being developed continuously but stressed the need for these systems to be investigated fully.

Prentis also suggested that funding under new UK agriculture policy could be used to assist producers who want to switch to alternative farrowing systems.

“It may well be that the sort of public good for which the public is keen to pay, assuming me have sufficient transparency in our systems to ensure that they understand that that is what is happening,” she said.

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