Select Committee on European Scrutiny First 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
Department: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of consideration: SEM of 19 June 2001
Previous Committee Report: HC 28-viii (2000-01), paragraph 9 (14 March 2001)
Discussed in Council: 19-20 June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared


36.1  According to the Commission, a high proportion of the Community's pigs are reared intensively in large units in one of three main types of system:

  • deep litter, using absorbent bedding material such as straw and sawdust;

  • scraped, requiring little or no bedding, and where manure is removed frequently;

  • slatted, where hygiene is maintained without bedding by slatted floors.

36.2  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.

36.3  Minimum Community standards for the protection of pigs are currently contained in Council Directive 91/630/EC,[57] 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. Although 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, it did so only at the beginning of this year (document (a)), when it also produced proposals for legislation (document (b)).

36.4  The main effects of the latter 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.

36.5  Once these measures are in place, the Commission says that 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.

36.6  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 19 February 2001, the Parliamentary Secretary (Commons) at the former Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr Elliot Morley) said that the UK was committed to improving farm animal welfare standards, and recognised that such changes are best introduced at Community level if real benefits are to be achieved. He added that the Government had 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). The Government therefore welcomed the proposal for a Community-wide ban on close-confinement stalls, but had concerns over the lengthy transitional period proposed. Nor was it convinced that the exemption allowing sows to stay in stalls for up to four weeks after service was necessary to prevent embryo loss on return to the group. The Government would be seeking further justification for the proposed ban on fully slatted floors, which it did not see as being precluded by the "welcome" requirement for permanent access to rooting material.

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

36.8  In their Report of 14 March 2001, our predecessors noted that the welfare of sows may not until recently have had quite the same public profile as that of caged hens, but was nevertheless an area of concern. They also noted that the current documents both draw attention to some of the shortcomings in existing practice and make a number of useful suggestions for improving the welfare of the animals concerned. However, they said that they would reserve judgement until they had seen the Regulatory Impact Assessment which the Government had undertaken to provide once it had completed its consultations on the proposals.

Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 19 June 2001

36.9  In his Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum of 19 June 2001, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty) said that the Swedish Presidency had produced a number of compromise texts whose main effect was that:

    "—  the detailed floor specifications, requiring a proportion of solid or drained floor as a lying area (and thereby prohibiting fully slatted floors) is restricted to gilts after service and pregnant sows only;

    "—  the Commission is now invited to submit to the Council a report, together with legislative proposals by 1 July 2004, on the effects of different space allowances and floor types applicable to the welfare of weaners and rearing pigs;

    "—  the date on which Member States must comply with the Directive has been deferred to 1 January 2003."

36.10  The Minister said that, as the negotiations had progressed, the majority of the Government's concerns on the proposal had been addressed, with the proposed ban on fully slatted floors now being restricted to gilts after service and pregnant sows, rather than all pigs as in the original proposal, thus minimising compliance costs. However, the Government still had reservations over the need on welfare grounds for the exemption allowing sows to stay in stalls for up to four weeks after service, but, should the UK be in a minority, it would seek to ensure that, at the very least, the pens used during this period would allow the animals to turn around easily. The Government was also pressing for a shorter transitional period to the outright ban.

36.11  The Minister also provided a "partial" Regulatory Impact Assessment. This pointed out that the benefits of the proposal, which related to improved welfare standards for pigs, were difficult to quantify, but that, since the first two of the measures set out in paragraph 36.4 above were already in place in the UK, the extra costs would arise as a result of the remaining four elements in the proposal. The Assessment also suggested that, on a "worst case" scenario, these costs (for the industry as a whole, comprising some 12,000 holdings) might amount to £9.2 million, with recurring costs of some £2.7 million.

36.12  Finally, the Minister indicated that the proposal was expected to go to the Agriculture Council on 19-20 June. We have since learned that it did so, and was adopted at that meeting.


36.13  As the previous Committee noted, this proposal made a number of useful suggestions for improving the welfare of the animals covered by it, and, since it last reported, the Regulatory Impact Assessment provided by the Government has confirmed that, since the two main elements are already in place in the UK, the costs to pig farmers in this country (arising from the remaining four elements) will be relatively limited. Moreover, the proposal also has the advantage of bringing practice in the other Member States on the use of tethering and individual sow stalls into line eventually with that in the UK. In view of these considerations, and the fact that the proposal has now been adopted by the Council, we are content to lift the earlier reserve and to clear it.

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

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