THE EUROPEAN Commission is considering the economic impact of animal welfare proposals to be put forward next year, affecting slatted flooring systems, space allowances and castration.

The EU executive plans surveys in all 25 member states that would ask if consumers would be prepared to pay for these higher welfare standards.

Although a large proportion of UK finished pigs are kept on straw based systems, most European mainland production is slatted.

Non-straw systems provide biosecurity and hygiene advantages, together with significant savings in labour and bedding costs.

The UK pig industry has for many years had to face the challenge of cheap pigmeat imports from countries where stall and tether breeding units and slatted systems still operate, and where castration is widespread.

According to the National Pig Association chairman, Stewart Houston, £25m has been spent by the industry since the mid-90s on explaining the higher welfare benefits of UK pork, but the message has still not reached many consumers.

There are concerns that British producers will be penalised for their higher welfare standards in the marketplace, until all EU and world suppliers of pigmeat adopt international welfare standards.

Point of sale product labelling is also receiving attention.

Following a House of Commons early day motion calling for clear and unambiguous country labelling on pork products, MPs are monitoring the progress of the NPA national PorkWatch.

This bi-monthly supermarket survey will identify a league table of retailers trading in pigmeat products produced to minimum UK standards.

The NPA are pushing for clearer labelling and are also calling for any third world countries to sign up to the OIE (World Organisation Animal Health) international welfare standards.