Twenty EU countries have called on the European Commission to step up action on the crisis-ridden pig meat sector, struggling with disease and the COVID-19 pandemic, with farmers’ associations calling it an “existential threat to all farms”.
In a note submitted by Belgium to the Council of Agricultural ministers during a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday and Tuesday (11-12 October), the countries urged the Commission to clear the way for exceptional market measures in the pig meat sector.
“The situation in Europe for the pig meat industry is critical,” the note reads, explaining that, for the past year, profit margins in the industry had been at their lowest in a decade due to low producer prices and high feed costs.
According to the note, the price slump for pig meat has been driven by a decrease in exports to China, as well as slowing domestic demand as out-of-home consumption broke down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moreover, cases of African swine fever (ASF) in several export-oriented European countries, including Belgium and Germany, had hampered exports.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski called the situation on the pig market “very difficult” and announced on Twitter that he had met with the Belgian agricultural ministers to discuss the issue.
More animal-friendly breeding conditions
Farmers organisations in the affected countries also called attention to the situation in the pig sector.
“The continuing catastrophic market situation is an existential threat to all farms,” said Hubertus Beringmeier from the German Farmers’ Association, calling for the fight against the swine flu to be stepped up.
The German Peasant Agriculture Association (AbL), on the other hand, pointed out that one reason for the decline in domestic pig consumption was “breeding conditions that consumers do not accept anymore,” according to the organisation’s chairman, Martin Schulz.
Five countries (Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands) also presented a joint position on a new legislative frame for animal welfare.
The Commission has started updating the EU’s legislation on the issue and intends to present the revised framework by the end of 2023.
“Animal welfare is a matter of great concern to many European citizens,” Danish minister Rasmus Prehn said, adding that this was evidenced by the large amount of support for the European citizens’ initiative “End the Cage Age”.
The initiative, which called for a ban on caged farming in the EU, garnered more than 1.4 million signatures from more than 18 member states.
“We propose to update current legislation according to new scientific evidence and practical experience,” Prehn said.
Moreover, more specific legislation would be needed on the protection of certain animals that are not covered in detail within the current framework, including pigs, laying hens, or turkeys, he added.
“We need to further harmonise and improve existing animal welfare legislation and better align it with animals’ needs,” German minister Julia Klöckner said, urging a joint move forward at the European level to initiate “new and necessary measures”.
Commissioner Wojciechowski offered assurances that the Commission would carefully consider the countries’ suggestions and was already looking into some of the ideas put forth, such as increased use of animal-based indicators.
He also pointed out that, in response to the “End the Cage Age” initiative, the Commission had “committed to a phase-out” of cage farming for certain animals as part of the revised animal welfare legislation proposal.
Ensuring internal market coherence
Although member states generally agreed that animal welfare legislation needed to be updated, some took more cautious stances.
While Hungary’s agricultural minister, István Nagy, said there was “no question” that animal welfare should be a priority, he cautioned that “drastic measures would not only put serious burdens on a lot of animal farmers, they would also have unforeseeable consequences for the viability of short supply chains and the price of basic foodstuffs”.
Meanwhile, French representative Fabrice Dubreuil said Paris would “fully support” the approach to animal welfare legislation put forth in the position paper “if we take into account the need for coherence between the different products sold on the single market, as well as imported products”.
Any animal welfare requirements would need to be matched by equivalent measures for imported products, he added.
Animal welfare campaigners, on the other hand, welcomed the motion.
“Member states today sent a strong signal to the European Commission,” said Reineke Hameleers, CEO of animal protection organisation Eurogroup for Animals.
As such, she called on the Commission to “work on comprehensive and ambitious new legislation for kept animals to ensure lives worth living”.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]