The failure of nine European Union (EU) member states to properly protect the welfare pregnant sows - breaking an EU law agreed 12 years ago - has caused the European Commission to threaten legal action over the issue.
It has given the governments of Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Poland and Portugal two months to say how they will resolve the problem or face a possible case at the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The Commission is upset that these countries have failed to guarantee group housing for sows during part of their pregnancy, allowing farmers to seclude sows in single stalls while they are carrying young.
EU directive 2001/88/EC bans placing pregnant sows and gilts in individual stalls from four weeks after service to one week before the expected time of farrowing. It also bans the use of tethers for these sows; insists on an improved quality of flooring surfaces; increases the living space available for sows and gilts; says sows and gilts should have permanent access to materials for rooting; and introduces welfare training and competence standards for stockmen. These rules have been in place since 2003 for all new or rebuilt holdings and from this January 1 to all holdings.
In a communiqué, the Commission said that “despite repeated calls…[these] member states have failed to adequately comply with EU law” regarding pregnant sow stalls, noting: “Member states have had twelve years to ensure a smooth transition to the new system and to implement the directive.”
The Commission said these failings “undermine animal welfare” and penalise “businesses that have invested for complying with this requirement”, who face higher costs. If the cases go to court, ECJ judges have the power to impose daily recurring fines of many thousands of Euros on the erring governments, payable until they bring in the reforms.