Animal health and welfare are key issues for the sustainability of pig farming in Europe, said Dr. Andrea Gavinelli, at the 2nd Chinese European Pig Summit, recently held in Hannover, Germany. Gavinelli heads the animal welfare unit in the European Commission's directorate-general for health and consumers.
An EU-wide law on animal health has been proposed, which would direct the emphasis strongly onto biosecurity and prevention. Welfare shares the spotlight as the wishes of Europe’s consumers become increasingly influential in shaping the EU’s policies on animals.
The EU animal welfare directive having the most impact on methods of pig production at present is due to take effect on 1st January 2013.
Dr Gavinelli reminded that, as from that date, holdings with sows in the European Union cannot use individual stalls to house their pregnant animals from four weeks after insemination until one week before the expected farrowing date.
Other parts of the same directive require an increase in the living space allowed sows and gilts, Dr. Gavinelli added, and also stipulate that these animals must have permanent access to materials suitable for rooting.
Impact welfare rules inknown
Erik Thijssen, piglet producer in the Netherlands and Germany and also President of European Pig Producers, said that welfare regulations form only part of the challenges for Europe’s pig producers.
“No-one knows what effect the implementation of the new rules on sow housing will have on the sector in the European Union,” he said. “It is likely to be big considering the number of sow places that remain to be converted and the cost of the conversion.”
Pig farming in Europe also must deal with the environmental aspects associated with its increasing concentration on fewer and larger farms. The average number of pigs per farm in western European countries have shown a five-fold increase in the past 20 years.
Again there are added costs to be taken into account, said Thijssen. By one calculation in the Netherlands, cleaning the air to remove ammonia and employing approved methods for manure handling adds between 10 and 12 Euros to the cost per pig place in finishing facilities.
Sustainability is more than just a buzzword, it is already a reality in the policies of large food producers and retailers in the United States and in Europe, said Dr. Gerald Behrens, Head of Global Marketing/ Food Producing Animals at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health.
There are related aspects such as the massive public pressure being applied in several countries against the use of antibiotics in producing pork.
Societal considerations are clearly a central part of the sustainability debate, Dr. Behrens continued, but it is a mistake to assume that all consumers are the same.
For example, a major consumer survey conducted in the European Union has found large differences from one country to another in the importance that people attach to the concept of food safety.
This diversity may reflect that, in the minds of consumers, food safety is not a matter of science – it is emotional.
Effects on costs
Robert Hoste, pig production economist at the LEI Agricultural Economic Research Institute of Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, pointed to the cost of meeting such societal demands on pig farms.
One Dutch study concluded that fulfilling a list of demands (including food safety, animal welfare and environment protection) would add about 15% to standard production costs on a typical unit.
“In fact, the real problem in Europe is not the extra cost per kilogram of pig meat associated with meeting society’s demands. It is more the fact that every farmer must find the investment for the housing change needed to suit the legislation,” he said. “Who pays, the producer or the consumer?”