Bundesrat postpones controversial vote on caging pigs, again

Farmer and chairman of the committee of sow keepers in the Lower Saxony Landvolk, Enno Garbade, told EURACTIV Germany that if the new were to come into force, he would have to rebuild again and invest between €300,000 and €400,000. [vinsenssandy / Shutterstock]

Germany’s Bundesrat again postponed the controversial vote on caging pigs due on Friday (5 June). Animal welfare activists and the Greens are calling for stricter regulations but farmers fear high costs. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The Bundesrat cancelled its vote today on how long sows can be kept in metal cages.

At present, sows are caged for a few weeks after artificial insemination and around the time of birth, during which they can only slightly move forwards or backwards, but not sideways.

A proposal by Germany’s agriculture ministry to amend the regulation for animal welfare and livestock farming provided for reducing caging to five days around birth instead of 35 days and the stay in the mating centre is to be reduced from four weeks to eight days.

Farmers should have up to 17 years to convert their stables accordingly.

In 2015, the Higher Administrative Court of Saxony-Anhalt ruled that the current husbandry was illegal, as the pigs could not stretch their legs in the box, but the law has not yet changed.

According to the proposal, the cages are to be enlarged to measure at least 2.2 metres in length and between 65 and 85 centimetres in width.

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Farmers fear costs

The changes should ensure that the chances of fertilisation are maximised and that the piglets are not trampled to death by their mothers later on. However, animal welfare activists have been calling for these so-called ‘pig boxes’ to be abolished for years.

The organisation ‘Land schafft Verbindung’ (Land connects) had organised a demonstration in front of the Bundesrat on Friday (5 June), while members of farmers associations also gathered in Berlin, warning of the considerable economic damage this could cause for German farmers.

Enno Garbade, chairman of the committee of sow keepers in the Lower Saxony Landvolk, was among the demonstrators. Four years ago he rebuilt the stables of his 380 pigs in the Cuxhaven district.

However, should the new proposals come into force, he would have to rebuild again and invest between €300,000 and €400,000, he told EURACTIV Germany. “In addition to the expensive conversion, I would have to reduce my herd by 100 sows. You can work out how unprofitable that is,” he added.

The country’s agriculture ministry estimates the costs for the conversion of German pig houses at around €1.1 billion, with up to €300 million coming from the economic stimulus package presented this week.

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Greens want to tighten the proposal even further

“Farmers must know under what conditions they can build or keep the pig farm whole if it will no longer pay off soon. Our main problem is the political hang-up,” said Garbad.

Back in February, the vote had been taken off the Bundesrat’s agenda as the nine green-governed states wanted to tighten Klöckner’s proposal.

At the end of May, the more conservative states of North Rhine-Westphalia (CDU and FDP) and Schleswig-Holstein (CDU, Greens, FDP) then presented a compromise proposal, which would shorten the conversion period for farmers to eight years. But this proposal has not yet found a majority.

The consumer organisation Foodwatch had called on the Green federal states not to support the current proposal.

“Anyone who attaches as much importance as the Greens to the environment, people and animals cannot and must not agree to regulations that allow defenceless animals to be locked up in tight forced corsets made of iron bars for many more years,” said Matthias Wolfschmidt, veterinarian and international strategy director of Foodwatch.

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More piglet imports from abroad?

The German Farmers’ Association warns that with the stricter rules, piglet breeding could migrate from Germany to its neighbouring countries, the Netherlands and Denmark.

While 2.5 million piglets were being imported from these countries into Germany in 2000, this figure has now risen to around 11 million piglets per year. In the same period, the number of sow farmers has decreased from 47,000 to almost 7,000.

“What annoys me most is that we are only shifting the problem to other EU member states. I find this hypocritical,” said Garbade

Caging is not regulated uniformly in the EU.

In Denmark, the Netherlands and Austria there are legal regulations which limit caging in breeding centres to just a few days. However, in Sweden, this form of livestock farming has been completely banned since 1988, and in the UK since 1991.

Germany is the EU’s largest pork meat producer producing just under a quarter of the bloc’s meat, followed by Spain, France and Poland.

If an agreement is reached in time, a vote on caging will be held in the Bundesrat on 26 June.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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