Proposals for an immediate ban on sow farrowing crates have been dropped from animal welfare legislation progressing through parliament.
The original clause was lodged by shadow Defra minister Daniel Zeichner within the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
During a debate on the Bill, Mr Zeichner said farrowing crates were a major concern because they “prevented sows from building nests”.
“Alternatives to farrowing crates – many of them designed by British farmers and engineers – are already commercially available in the UK,” he added.
“We should support British ingenuity and pig welfare by requiring the use of these higher-welfare systems,” he told fellow MPs, signalling his intention to bring in a ban “when in government”.
However, he added that the Labour party would work closely with the pig sector to make sure a ban was introduced without damaging the industry.
But Defra farm minister Victoria Prentis warned that the new clause would have led to an “immediate ban” of farrowing crates, something Defra did not want.
The Defra minister acknowledged that such a ban could have a significant impact on the industry and could trigger a mass exodus from the pig sector. This would merely export production to countries with lower welfare standards, she said.
MPs voted to drop the clause for an immediate ban.
Mrs Prentis has not, however, ditched plans for a ban in the long term. She said the government was considering the case for further reforms on farrowing crates and, ultimately, hoped farrowing crates would no longer be necessary.
“I am keen to ensure we have a realistic phasing-out period that is sustainable for the industry, so that we can achieve the welfare goals,” she said.
“I have made it absolutely clear that we would not make this change without working with the industry to ensure that the dangers, of which we are all aware, do not come to pass.”
National Pig Association (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies welcomed the removal of the Labour MP’s clause, which she believed was linked to discussions between the organisation and government.
Some of Mrs Prentis’s statements in parliament were direct quotes from NPA lobbying papers, she said.
Dr Davies added that she was pleased government and opposition MPs were aware of the potential damage a ban could cause, and said the NPA would continue to hold talks with all sides of the debate.