09 July 1999
Farrowing crate ban for Freedom Food entrants
By Marianne Curtis
NEW entrants to the RSPCAs farm animal welfare scheme are to be banned from using farrowing crates.
The move was discovered by farmers weekly as Freedom Foods hosted the launch of Cambacs £400,000 three-year research project comparing farrowing systems (see below).
Pre-empting the trials results means Freedom Foods action is premature, say industry experts.
“The science is not there to support the RSPCAs decision,” says Cambac Research director, Jane Guise. “An economic assessment is essential and factors such as labour, microbial cleanliness and evenness of pigs, a key supermarket requirement, need to be looked at in more detail.”
Patience is vital, warns Dr Guise. With full recording of the systems taking two years, she urges supermarkets not to get their fingers burnt by pre-empting research, pointing to the failure of RSPCA and MAFF efforts to develop the Freedom Farrowing system in the 1980s at the commercial testing stage.
Speaking at the launch, farm minister Elliot Morley also warned that science needed to take precedence. “Until we are sure science and practice have developed ways of addressing the welfare interests of both pregnant sows and piglets, we must be cautious about pressures for change.”
But no such caution came from RSPCA head of farm animals, Martin Potter. “Preliminary work done in the UK and abroad indicates alternatives to farrowing crates could work. Freedom Foods wont allow new producers entering the scheme to use farrowing crates.”
Tescos sponsorship of the research also indicates the way it would like farrowing accommodation to go, says Mr Potter.
The supermarkets Chris Ling says its research shows customers think stalls and tethers and farrowing crates are the same thing and that has persuaded it to sponsor research to assess alternatives.
“Results will come out of the project on a continual basis. If there are strong enough results to support the use of alternative systems after a year, we may recommend that all new farrowing systems installed on supplier units should be one of the alternatives evaluated at Cambac.”
That prospect does not please FABPigs assistant manager, Marcus Wood: “We welcome the research, but it has to be appreciated that pig producers have already spent a lot of money complying with stall and tether legislation.
“Many farrowing houses are only built to withstand piglet abuse because sows are restrained by farrowing crates. Removing crates would require structural changes to accommodation. A complete redesign could cost £1500 a sow place.”