Compassion in World Farming has renewed calls for an EU-wide ban on caged farming systems, which it said caused “cruelty, torment and frustration” for pregnant sows across the bloc.
After releasing video footage said to be shot undercover at 16 farms in France, Italy, Spain and Poland – some of which were part of ‘premium’ Bayonne and Parma ham supply chains to the UK retail market – CIWF today said it was contacting agriculture ministers in the EU’s 27 member states, demanding they in turn press the European Commission to live up to a pledge made last year “to phase out the use of caged farming across Europe” by the end of 2023.
The footage showed, in some cases, hundreds of sows side-by-side in rows of cages, some barely wider than the animal – conditions CIWF said the animals spent “nearly half their adult lives in”.
Such individual sow stalls were banned in the UK in 1999 and across the EU in 2013 after an 11-year ”phase-in” period, but with the caveat that they could be still be used for up to a month after mating.
The RSPCA has said the stalls ”stop sows from turning around, allowing only limited movement forwards and backwards”.
CIWF added the stalls it filmed were usually ”so small they prevent practically all movement apart from standing up or lying down” and meant the sows must ”endure lying in their own excrement and urine, something they would naturally avoid”.
Mandy Carter, CIWF head of global campaigns, said the conditions the sows were kept in forced them to ”live unimaginably miserable lives”.
CIWF listed the UK as one of the main export destinations for Bayonne and Parma hams, alongside other wealthy economies such as Germany, Japan and the US.
Consumers across these nations would likely be “shocked” to know the conditions the animals were subjected to, Carter said, calling for a wider end to “factory farming” and a shift to more ”regenerative” practices.
The BBC reported on Thursday that the British Retail Consortium said it was more difficult for UK retailers than elsewhere in Europe to sell ham sourced from supply chains using sow stalls. However, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose all confirmed to the broadcaster they sold ham sourced according to EU rules allowing the stalls to be used for up to a month after mating.
The Institute for European Environmental Policy earlier this year published a report explaining what money and structures were in place across Europe to support farmers to dispense with caged farming, suggesting the revamped Common Agricultural Policy could from this year ”play an important role in helping progress towards a cage-free transition”.
While Sweden banned the use of stalls as far back as 1994, before the Dutch government implemented restrictions on the practice in 2013, CIWF numbers show more than 50% of animals being kept in caged conditions in 19 of the EU’s 27 member states, or around 300 million animals in all.
UK figures showed around 34% of farm animals being kept in caged conditions, which, if the country had remained an EU member, would have made it the ninth-best performer in terms of curbing the practice.