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Pork suppliers must comply with EU ban on sow cages
ORGANISATIONS representing British pig farmers will adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards retailers, food manufacturers and caterers that flout European animal welfare law.
Any company importing pork products from countries where pregnant sows are illegally kept in narrow metal cages, where they can hardly move, will be publicly challenged.
The industry will be using isotope technology to check where pork products on sale in Britain come from and, if they are from any European Union country reported not to be complying with the European Union ban on sow cages, the business concerned will be challenged to produce a traceability audit, to prove the product does not come from a farm where sows are confined illegally.
As European Union countries have had ten years to prepare for the sow cage ban, Britain’s National Pig Association (NPA) has warned it will accept nothing less than 100 per cent compliance.
Sow cages were unilaterally banned in Britain 14 years ago, contributing to a halving of the national pig herd, as British producers struggled to repay conversion costs and compete against cheaper, lower-welfare production from the continent.
Isotope testing — which is nearly ready to be employed — uses four elements: hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and sulphur, which give all pork a unique signature, which can show precisely where each pig is raised.
The system is so accurate it could in theory be used to track pork to individual farms anywhere in the world.
But the British pig industry is primarily concerned with checking country of origin, by comparing samples from manufacturers, retailers and caterers against a “signature database” developed by the British Pig Executive (BPEX).
If a sample comes from a British pig farm, no further action will be taken. Likewise if it comes from any other European Union country which is wholly compliant with the sow cage ban.
But if it comes from any country which is reported to be less than 100 per cent compliant with the ban, British pig industry representatives will publicly call for documentary evidence that it does not come from an illegally-operating farm. If necessary, NPA representatives will physically follow audit trails to continental farms, to check British shoppers, diners and pig farmers are being given accurate information.
Figures released by Brussels last month, a few weeks before the sow cage ban came into force on January 1, showed 80 per cent of European Union countries were not compliant with the ban.
When new figures are produced by Brussels later this month it is expected well over half of the European Union’s 27 member countries will still be less than 100 per cent compliant.
NPA chairman Richard Longthorp said: “We have been pressuring Brussels for more than a year to take measures to protect European consumers from illegally-produced pork. Its stock response has always been that it could do nothing until January 1, 2013. Well, that date has passed and it needs to act urgently to have any chance of keeping its integrity intact.”