With the EU-wide sow stall ban in force as of yesterday, the UK pig industry is stepping up efforts to highlight low levels of compliance in other member states and the risk of cheap, illegal imports coming in from the Continent.

The National Pig Association is warning as much as 40% of EU pigs will come from farms that do not yet comply with the new rules, amounting to an estimated 40,000 illegally produced pigs an hour being delivered to processing plants on the Continent.

It added official Brussels figures showed 80% of EU countries were not yet fully compliant with the ban, with only 33% of French producers sticking to the new rules, 48% of German producers and 57% of Irish producers.

Compliance is not an issue in the UK, where sow stalls have not been used in about a decade, but there is concern UK producers could be under-cut by cheaply produced pork from illegal systems. 

NPA chairman Richard Longthorp said the EC now needed to take urgent action to ensure the ban was enforced in all member states. “We have been pressuring Brussels for more than a year to take measures to protect European consumers from illegally produced pigmeat,” he said. “Its stock response has always been that it could do nothing until 1 January 2013 – well, that date is now upon us and it needs to act urgently to have any chance of keeping its integrity intact.”

Compassion in World Farming, which has been campaigning for stricter pig welfare rules, said there was no excuse for non-compliance given producers had 11 years to implement the ban. It said it had been in touch with retailers, manufacturers and foodservice companies to urge them not to buy illegally produced pork.

“Many UK retailers have already pledged not to sell pork products from non-compliant countries, once the ban comes into force,” said CEO Philip Lymbery. “I would encourage all retailers and processors to follow suit to demonstrate to non-compliant member states that this disregard of the law and of sows’ welfare, will not be tolerated.”

The EC is set to hold a meeting on the ban on 28 January – where, according to the NPA, it is expected to claim compliance was better than the latest figures suggested – with UK farming minister David Heath set to hold a meeting on the ban on 8 February.

However, pig-breeding company ACMC said action was needed sooner and this week called for an “emergency summit” with retailers, producers, processors and consumer bodies on the ban. MD Matthew Curtis said illegally produced pork coming into the UK would have “serious implications” for British pig farmers. “Due to cheaper production methods, this lower-welfare meat could undercut UK-produced meat and the fiasco in the EU surrounding non-compliance with the battery-cage ban in 2012 will pale into insignificance with this.”

The ban on battery cages, which came in on 1 January 2012, was also plagued by initial compliance problems – including some in the UK – and led to the price of many egg products, especially those used in food manufacturing, soaring.