Battery cages and sow stalls were (still are, in some parts of the world) methods of confining farm livestock in tiny cages. Good for the profits, terrible for the animals.
This is the kind of thing which leads some people to use the phrase ‘factory farming’. I get frustrated when people use that emotive term and when people assume that ‘the egg industry’ or ‘the meat industry’ is the same everywhere. It isn’t so.
Here’s what Mark Kozlowski at Mintec (‘helping the supply chain buy better’) says about battery cages and sow stalls. He says that battery cages have been banned across the European Union (EU) only since January 2012. Britain has been ‘fully compliant’ (that is, inspectors find no hens in battery cages) since this time last year but Italy and Greece remain non-compliant. I hope to write more about hen batteries at some point.
Mr Kozlowski also says that sows are no longer being kept in stalls in Britain. Sow stalls were never just about keeping a newly farrowed sow from crushing her piglets – farmers are still allowed to confine the sow when she’s newly pregnant or newly farrowed. But stalls were used also to ‘prevent sows fighting’ which they’ll do if crammed together into small pens without piggy entertainment. You might choose to follow my ‘pig’ tag and my ‘welfare’ tag for more about sow stalls. I’m grateful to my fellow blogger Stephen Liddell for reminding me to write about this topic.
Sow stalls have been illegal in Britain since 1999 but our neighbours on the Continent (the rest of the EU) have been obliged to stop using their stalls only since January this year. Their lower welfare standards have allowed Continental farmers to undercut our British farmers on price. Hence tasty, affordable Danish bacon and pork in our shops. Who’d give that up? If your wallet speaks louder than your conscience, well maybe. Some in the meat supply chain still want to sell us cheap, cruelly raised bacon and pork. I’ve written on this blog about the ongoing problem of pigmeat fraud.
Mr Kozlowski writes for grocers. He says, ‘Many people believe that improvements to animal welfare standards are a good thing. However, with feed prices currently at a high level, the additional investment needed to upgrade existing facilities has squeezed the margins for producers even further. This has resulted in reduced supply which, coupled with the higher cost of production, has led to increased prices for consumers.’
If you want eggs and bacon from animals which have led decent lives, you have to pay for it. In Britain you might choose to support our farmers by buying foods with the Red Tractor label.