Select Committee on European Scrutiny Eighth Report


COM(01) 20

Commission Communication on the welfare of intensively
kept pigs, in particular taking into account the welfare of
sows reared in varying degrees of confinement.

Draft Council Directive amending Directive 91/630/EEC
laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs.

Legal base: (a) —
(b) Article 37 EC; consultation; qualified majority voting
Document originated: 16 January 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 17 January 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 6 February 2001
Department: Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Basis of consideration: EM of 19 February 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested


  9.1  According to the Commission, a high proportion of the Community's pigs are reared intensively in large units. It says that the systems used vary greatly, but can be divided into three main categories as follows:

    —  deep litter, where the total area has to be maintained in a clean dry state through the use of absorbent bedding material such as straw and sawdust, and where the animals often sub-divide the pen area into separate lying and excretory areas;

    —  scraped, requiring little or no bedding, where the lying and excretory areas are made structurally distinct, and manure is removed frequently;

    —  slatted, which is the most widely used in the Community, where hygiene is maintained without bedding by slatted floors, either over the whole area or where dunging takes place.

  9.2  Different housing systems tend to be used for different categories of pig. Thus, boars are normally housed individually on safety grounds, whereas breeding sows may be housed individually (with individual housing being in fully enclosed stalls, or in partial stalls where the sow is tethered by a collar or girth belt), in stable groups, or in large dynamic groups. Individual stalls typically allow a sow a very limited area, preventing her from turning round, have barred or meshed partitions to allow visual contact, and contain flooring which is most commonly partially slatted, whereas the design of group housing is largely conditioned by feeding practice. Also, sows are commonly moved to farrowing accommodation three to seven days before the expected farrowing date, which, in the case of indoor production, involves the use of special crates.

  9.3  Minimum Community standards for the protection of pigs are currently contained in Council Directive 91/630/EC,[29] though a number of Member States have national legislation which lays down additional elements to improve the welfare of pigs kept in intensive conditions, and to address related environmental concerns. The Directive required the Commission to submit a report to the Council by 1 October 1997 on the different intensive pig rearing systems and their socio-economic implications. This was to be based on a report by the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW), taking particular account of the welfare of sows reared in varying degrees of confinement and in groups. However, although SCAHAW adopted an opinion in September 1997, which highlighted the welfare problems associated with individual stall systems and tethering, the Commission has only now produced a Communication coupled with proposals for legislation.

  9.4  The Communication also refers to a number of other issues arising in this area. These include the availability of Community financial aid for investment in buildings to improve the welfare of pigs, and the need to address the international dimension. This last concern arises particularly within the World Trade Organisation (WTO), where the Commission says it submitted a paper in June 2000, proposing the development of multilateral agreements, appropriate labelling rules, and the exemption from any commitments to reduce support of expenditure on the additional costs of maintaining animal welfare standards.

The current proposal

  9.5  The main effects of the current proposal would be to amend Council Directive 91/630/EEC by:

    —  banning by 1 January 2012 individual stalls for sows during pregnancy until seven days before farrowing, but with an exemption allowing them to stay in stalls for four weeks after service;

    —  banning the tethering of sows and gilts from 1 January 2006;

    —  requiring a minimum size for sow pens, at least allowing the animal to turn around;

    —  requiring permanent access for pigs to rooting material and high- fibre food;

    —  setting down detailed floor surface specifications, requiring separate dunging and resting/feeding areas, and prohibiting fully slatted floors; and

    —  introducing higher levels of welfare training for stockmen.

  9.6  Once these measures are in place, the Commission says that suitable labelling requirements to highlight the higher welfare standards used in production can be considered. It will also be seeking further scientific advice on a range of issues, such as the use of growth promoters and antibiotics in feed, space allowances and stall design. In the meantime, it will be enacting legislation of its own to amend the detailed Annex to Council Directive 91/630/EEC. This will regulate light and noise levels, specify requirements for flooring surfaces, lay down a minimum weaning age of 28 days, provide for permanent access to rooting/manipulable material such as straw, and prohibit certain "routine" mutilations.

The Government's view

  9.7  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 19 February 2001, the Parliamentary Secretary (Commons) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr Elliot Morley) says that the UK is committed to improving farm animal welfare standards, and recognises that such changes are best introduced at Community level if real benefits are to be achieved. He adds that the Government has a specific commitment in the Action Plan for Farming to support the proposal for a Community-wide ban on sow stalls, and thereby to bring other Member States up to standards in the UK (where sow stall and tether systems have been banned since 1 January 1999). He says that the Government therefore welcomes the proposal for a Community-wide ban on close-confinement stalls, but that it has concerns over the lengthy transitional period proposed. Nor it is convinced that the exemption allowing sows to stay in stalls for up to four weeks after service is necessary to prevent embryo loss on return to the group. The Government will also be seeking further justification for the proposed ban on fully slatted floors, which it does not see as being precluded by the "welcome" requirement for permanent access to rooting material.

  9.8  The Minister says that comments on the costs of complying with the proposal have been sought as part of a consultation exercise, and that these, together with information already available, will form the basis of a Regulatory Impact Assessment to be submitted shortly together with a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum . He also says that, although the Commission does not address the financial implications for the Community, these are likely to be limited to the costs of co-funding under the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (EAGGF), which provides support for investments in agricultural holdings with the objective of preserving and improving animal welfare standards.


  9.9  The welfare of sows may not until recently have had quite the same public profile as that of caged hens, but it is nevertheless an area of concern, and this document both draws attention to some of the shortcomings in existing practice and makes a number of useful suggestions for improving the welfare of the animals concerned. We have noted that the Government will be submitting a Regulatory Impact Assessment once it has completed its consultations on the proposals, and we will reserve judgement until we have seen that document.

29  OJ No. L 340, 11.12.91, p.33. Back

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