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EU: Sow Stalls Ban

Volume 734: debated on Thursday 19 January 2012

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what information they have about the likelihood of other European Union member states complying with the forthcoming European Union ban on sow stalls.

My Lords, the European Commission has sought data on how member states are progressing with complying with the sow stall ban, which comes into force on 1 January 2013. To date, the Commission has not released this information.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for his comments. Can he confirm that our farmers have invested very substantially to remove sow stalls here? Bearing in mind the current difficulties over another important farming issue, how confident is he that there will be full compliance with the ban on sow stalls throughout the EU by 1 January 2013?

In this country, as noble Lords will know, sow stalls have been banned since 1999, so my noble friend is right in saying that there has been considerable investment. In the light of recent experience, he would not expect me to be fully confident that other states will be compliant. We can be confident in our own position, as I have said, because we are not prepared to compromise on the welfare of sows, which is why we moved away from sow stalls early. We will not tolerate livestock regimes that compromise animal welfare and we will work hard in Brussels to ensure full compliance across Europe by the deadline.

That is a totally separate issue. The sow stalls directive is an individual directive focused on sow care and welfare.

My Lords, this country can be proud of being ahead of the game on banning sow stalls, as we have heard. As a regular customer of Pampered Pigs of Tolpuddle, I know that happy pigs are tasty pigs. But the current problems with eggs, as we have heard, demand a more robust position on enforcement of EU directives. Will the Government give notice now, with almost a year’s notice, that they will take legal action against other countries’ non-compliance as soon as this directive comes into effect so that the Commission can get its ducks and sows into a row?

As I mentioned before, we have already sought information on this matter. We are knocking at the door, and the Commission has already learnt lessons from the cage ban on laying hens. We have sought early information that it is asking all member states how close they are to compliance. To date, we do not have that information, but we are determined to press on this issue. We are hoping to have on the agenda of the February Agriculture Council a discussion topic on this item.

The “happy pigs are tasty pigs” message is a very forceful one but UK government procurement policy over the past decade since the sow stall method was changed here has not really been got over, either in government procurement or by UK supermarkets to their customers. What do this Government intend to do about procurement policy on UK pork and bacon?

As my noble friend will know, the framework of public procurement is complex and it is not easy to lay down criteria that are not covered by directives. However, following the sow stall ban, it will be possible to ensure that that is the case. At the Oxford farming conference recently it was said that 70 per cent of pig meat imported into this country would be illegal if produced here under our regime.

I hope the Government’s response to the pig directive is more robust than their response to the egg directive. As an egg producer, I am appalled that the Government’s answer to the import of eggs produced in illegal battery cages is not to send the lorry back to the country of origin, not to fine the importer or impound their vehicle, not to destroy the illegal eggs, but to send the eggs for processing into food for sale in the United Kingdom. Why do the Government not see what a devastating effect this will have on the UK’s legal egg industry, which, frankly, is stunned by their feeble response? When we joined the Common Market in 1973, we were promised a level playing field. After nearly 40 years, is it not about time we got one—or might pigs fly?

I have to say I share my noble friend’s frustration if not his anger. The Government have investigated the possibility of taking unilateral action and bringing in a UK ban on imports of eggs and egg products produced in conventional cages in other member states, but I have to inform my noble friend that, given that there are significant legal and financial implications in enforcing such a ban, coupled with practical difficulties in enforcing it, this is not a realistic option.

My Lords, are we not entirely capable of deciding our own standards about this sort of thing? Does this Question therefore not remind us of the hopeless fraud of subsidiarity, which indeed it has been since inception? Are the Government aware that under the EU treaties, although individuals and companies can be made to pay Brussels fines by the courts in the countries in which they live or operate, there is no way that a country can be made to pay a fine? Why do we not just emulate the French and ignore this and all similar mischief?

I can assure the noble Lord that the Commission is equally disappointed by the response of some member states on the egg-laying issue, which is why I am perhaps more confident that there will be a grip on the sow stall issue. It has already sent pre-infraction letters to non-compliant countries.