British pigs reared under illegal systems

23 March 1999

British pigs ‘reared under illegal systems’

By Johann Tasker

MUCH of the cheap imported pigmeat said to be threatening the livelihoods of British farmers may actually come from British-born sows, it was claimed today (Tuesday).

Thousands of live British pigs are being exported to the Continent and may be used to produce pigmeat which is then exported back to Britain, said welfare campaigners.

The news is likely to come as a blow to British pig farmers, who have complained loudly that cheap pigmeat imports are forcing producers here into bankruptcy.

The British sows are being reared abroad in stall-and-tether systems which the British farmers claim are cruel and which were banned in this country on January 1.

Last year 180,000 breeding sows were exported from Britain to the continent to be reared in sow stalls, according to the welfare group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

Most exported breeding sows are shipped from either Dover or Hull to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, claims CIWF.

The campaigners have make an undercover surveillance video, said to show how investigators trailed UK sows to a number of Belgian farms which use sow stalls.

Meat from the pigs born to the British-born sows kept in the stalls may then be legally shipped to Britain, which imports thousands of tonnes of pigmeat from Belgium.

Peter Stevenson, CIWF political and legal director, said it was scandalous that some British farmers exported sows to be kept in conditions that are illegal at home.

“It is hypocritical for UK pig farmers to complain about continental sow stalls while at the same time exporting their sows for rearing in such farms,” he said.

Although sow stalls are banned in Britain, European Union free-trade rules mean the British government cannot ban pigmeat imports from other European countries.

European rules also prevent the government from banning live animal exports, even the Animal Welfare Minister, Elliot Morley, has said he would like to do so.

The continuing flood of foreign imports led in January to 2000 angry farmers marching through London, where they burned a Union Jack outside Downing Street.

The crisis within the British pig industry is so bad that farmers leaders today told Agriculture Minister Nick Brown of the problems faced by producers.

A joint delegation from the National Farmers Union and the British Pig Association urged Mr Brown to encourage caterers and retailers to buy British pigmeat.

They also voiced concern that other European countries member states may hurt British farmers by introducing illegal aid for their own pig producers.

“The market remains extremely fragile,” said Ben Gill, NFU president.

“The unprecedented length of the depression in pig prices is now raising serious worries about the high debt levels of UK pig farmers.

“This threatens the future ability of farmers to survive.”

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