EU welfare rules give Hercule Poirot a challenge

How easy is it to get the wrong end of the stick? Very, especially if you listen to some people.  Some of the comments that have been thrown around in the media in recent weeks about EU welfare rules provide a salutary lesson for the year’s end.

The BBC’s flagship radio farming programme broadcast the view (21 December) that, “nearly half of EU member states will be producing illegal pork from the start of January.” This view followed the press release a day earlier by the UK’s National Pig Association (NPA) that, “Around 40,000 ‘illegal’ pigs an hour will be entering the European food chain in January …. the pigs will come from continental farms where sows are still confined in individual steel cages known as ‘stalls’ — a practice outlawed by European Union animal welfare legislation from 1 January 2013.”

What’s wrong with any of this? Well, for a start sow stalls are not subject to an EU-wide ban from 1 January 2013. They are, however, subject to restrictions on their use: namely that pig producers will only be allowed to keep sows in close-confinement stalls for the first four weeks after insemination (the UK and Sweden have total bans in place under their national legislation). Therefore, the earliest that the new welfare rules can be broken will be 29 January 2013 – and, given that there is a c. 4 months gestation period for pigs and that it takes c. 6 months to produce a pig of the correct weight for slaughter this puts October or November 2013 as the earliest date we could see “illegal” pork entering the EU food chain – and this pork would have to be traced back to the finished pig and back to the sow that was confined for more than 4 weeks in late January 2013 before it could be identified. Even Hercule Poirot would find that a challenge.

So, we end 2012 with a sense of déjà vu – yet again we are reminded of the need to examine trade and media reports closely before accepting all that we hear or read.

Best wishes to all for the coming New Year

Dr John Strak, Editor Whole Hog