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EU animal welfare pressures 'coming your way', U.S. told.

U.S. poultry and livestock producers have been put on notice that they will have to adapt to European-style strictures, whether required by legislation or marketplace pressures, orchestrated by organized advocates of animal rights.

Activist groups in the European Union "have drawn up a long agenda aimed at changing farming practices or even the elimination of conventional animal agriculture," Mike Sheldon, a leading figure in the British pork industry, told a U.S. audience earlier this month.

Some of the mandates applied by the EU to poultry and livestock producers "have not come your way, but you can expect them," he told the Animal Agriculture Alliance annual stakeholders' summit meeting in Arlington, Va.

Sheldon's comments followed recent announcements by some of America's largest fast-food companies, including McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's, along with retail giant Safeway, that they would shift away from producers using sow stalls.

Although sow stalls are banned in some states, Congress has never taken up legislation that would define swine production practices. Legislation that would establish minimum cage size for hens and labeling requirements for eggs is pending.

In addition to its ban on conventional cages for egg-laying hens and a ban on sow stalls after 2013, Sheldon said, EU legislators are considering limiting the distance that livestock and poultry can be transported and activists are pressing for standards for slatted floors for livestock and permanent access to bedding for food animals.

Since the United Kingdom banned gestation stalls in 1999, "farmers are accepting it in a better than grudging way, perhaps short of enthusiastic," he said. "There's nothing wrong with sows in groups. It works beautifully," added Sheldon, the founding chief executive of the National Pig Association and a member of the British Pig Executive.

But the U.K.'s unilateral ban was "stupid, because the rest of the EU was allowed to continue using stalls," Sheldon said. U.K. pork production was cut in half, with demand met by imports from Denmark. "Absolutely nothing was achieved for animal welfare."

As a result of ever-tightening requirements across the EU, he said "many farmers are going to go out of business" and market prices will increase. After the rules for laying hen cages became effective at the start of this year, the price of eggs in the EU jumped 60 percent in one month, he noted.

"Large companies are induced to invest in large facilities, resulting in further growth of large, integrated operations. That is anathema to a lot of animal welfare activists who say, 'if you have it at all, you have to have it on a small farm'. The irony is that they would have forced the kind of farming they dislike," Sheldon said.

The market impact of the EU-wide ban on sow stalls could foster the movement of swine finishing and slaughter to large, integrated operations in eastern Europe, he said. That would create more efficiency and lower prices and give the EU a more competitive position in world markets--making it "more like North America, more industrialized, more efficient, which would be ironic."
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Comment:EU animal welfare pressures 'coming your way', U.S. told.
Publication:The Food & Fiber Letter
Geographic Code:100NA
Date:May 21, 2012
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