From January 1 EU-legislation outlaws fixation on gestating sows. This has raised the question whether or not a further Danish legislation should ban fixation of lactating sows. “Disastrous for Danish pig farmers” says Danish Agriculture and Food.
By Maria Runøe Møller
When the EU-legislation becomes effective, Danish sows will be loose during their pregnancy. But when giving birth and providing natural care for their newborn piglets, sows will still be fastened.
Offhand, it might seem clearly why fixation of lactating sows should be illegal. But according to Martin Andersson, department head of the NGO Danish Agriculture and Food, a ban on fixation of lactating sows is far from simple.
”It will be a disaster for Danish pig farmers. We don’t have the type of stable system in Denmark that can handle the demands of loose lactating sows. It would be a permanent price increase on Danish pig production,” says Martin Andersson.
Bad competitive position
One problem is that the number of dead piglets will increase, because a loose sow will constitute a bigger risk crushing them by accident. Another problem is that the price on Danish pig meat will rise, because of the heightened welfare, which will be bad for the Danish international competitive position.
The Danish pig industry is the largest one in Europe. Germany is the main importer of Danish pig meat. In 2011 Germany imported meat for more than 7 million kroner. Martin Andersson fears that German as well as Danish citizens wouldn’t be willing to pay more for Danish pig meat of heightened welfare, but buy meat produced in other countries instead.
“Who will pay, if the consumers aren’t willing to? It can only be the farmer. If his expense increases, he will become less competitive on the international market. At some point he has to reconsider producing pigs,” says Martin Anderson.
To prevent pig farmers from leaving the industry, because of economically challenges, Danish Agriculture and Food has asked the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries for ten years of research on new stable systems. The research will be done in cooperation with the Danish Pig Research Center and the University of Aarhus.
The Danish Animal Protection can’t see the point in giving ten years to science. A Danish report from 2010 done by the Ministry of Justice has concluded that fixation is damaging for the sows. According to Danish Animal Protection, this is reason enough to get rid of fixation.
”The report proves that sows are suffering during fixation. They become extremely stressed, because they don’t have the opportunity to implement natural behavior, which can result in an early dead. We need legislation against fixation now,” says Birgitte Dam, who is a project coordinator from the Danish Animal Protection.
She is aware that such legislation will have a major economically affect on the pig farmers.
“But we can’t wait ten years on good animal welfare,” she says.
No money for a loan
Henrik Zobbe, a Danish economist from the Institute of Food and Resource Economics, believes that increased meat prices only have one solution:
”If you make EU-legislation on fixation of lactating sows, you won’t lose the consumers, because all EU-countries would be in the same situation of raising prices,” he says.
According to Henrik Zobbe the great challenge will be whether or not Danish pig farmers will be able to grant a loan from their banks. If fixation of lactating sows became illegal most farmers would need money to rebuild their stables.
”At the current moment, few farmers would get a loan, because of the Danish credit crunch. If legislation became a reality tomorrow, it would destroy many Danish farmers,” he says.
Animal welfare is more important
The Red-Green Aliance, Enhedslisten, are shaking their heads about the economically concerns.
Their spokesman for food, Per Clausen, doesn’t believe that more time and research will make a big different. The Danish pig farmers will have to pay the bill for reconstruction of their stables no matter what.
”It is their job to make sure that they aren’t using any tools that mistreat animals. What we need is an exact year on, when fixation should be shut down. It could easily be done in three years,” says Per Clausen.
He is referring to the report from the Ministry of Justice, which he believes gives the breeding ground to make legislation on fixated sows.
”Fixation of lactating sows is the most significant problem in Danish animal welfare. I will not accept this kind of production, which is based on a systematic mistreat of animals,” he says.
The industry knows best
At the Danish People’s Party, Dansk Folkeparti, they also want to make fixation of lactating sows illegal. But their spokesman for Food, René Christensen, wants to find a solution that won’t destroy the Danish competitive situation on the international market.
”It will not be easy. But Danish Agriculture and Food and the rest of the industry work with pigs every day. I believe they are the ones, who should develop a solution to this problem,” says René Christensen.
He is aware that it might takes years to find a solution that will combine the industry and good animal welfare, but he is not ready to give Danish Agriculture and Food ten years of research.
“We are prepared to wait for a better solution, than just get rid of fixation, without thinking about the financial problems it will cost. But we don’t want to wait ten years. There has to be a continuing improvement of the stables,” he says.
The Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries still need to take stand in the debate, and decide whether the industry should be given ten years of science.
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Fixation means fasten sows, who can’t turn around
Not turning detains them from killing their piglets by accident
98 pct. of all sows are fixated in Danish farrowing barns
Fixation can result in stress, pressure sores and an inability to regulate body temperature
Fixation of lactating sows is illegal in Norway, Sweden and Switzerland
(Source: The Danish Animal Protection)