By the year 2013, all member states of the European Union (EU) must comply with draconian new animal welfare regulations.

Some EU countries such as Sweden and the United Kingdom are already well down the proposed route, voluntarily.

U.S. readers will already know, for example, that our own national welfare laws prevent us from keeping sows in stalls, weaning pigs under 21 days of age and a lot of other things.

The new EU proposals go even further, so the majority of EU member states will have much catching up to do.

Here Are the New Proposals:

  1. Presently, the farm owner must understand and implement the current welfare regulations. In the future, the farm owner will have to ensure that any person attending to his animals has received instructions and guidance applying the regulations.

  2. The dimensions of any stall or pen holding individual pigs must be such that the internal area is not less than the square of the length of the pig, and no internal side is less than 75% of the pig's length.

  3. Not less than 40 lux of artificial lighting for eight hours a day.

  4. Maximum floor gap widths are laid down for nursing pigs, weaners, growers and gilts, and minimum slat widths are required for the same three groups of pigs, plus gilts after service and sows.

  5. All nursing pigs over 2 weeks of age must have permanent access to sufficient water.

  6. All pigs must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of “manipulative” materials such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such to allow them proper investigation and manipulation.

  7. There are new instructions for teeth clipping and grinding, docking, castration (with caveats), detusking, nose rings and ear tagging and notching (with caveats).

  8. New spatial allowances for boars are at 65 sq. ft., minimum, and 108 sq. ft. for pens used for natural service.

  9. Group housing will become mandatory, except seven days before predicted farrowing and when weaning is completed.

  10. More generous floor allowances must be provided for sows and gilts after service.

  11. All dry sows must be allowed bulky, high-fiber food to allow chewing and satisfy hunger.

  12. Minimum weaning age is raised from 21 to 28 days except for specialized all-in, all-out (AIAO) pig flow in the weaning system.

The Real Consequences

New farms must implement the new regulations from Jan. 1, 2003, while existing operations have until Jan. 1, 2013 to comply. There are 127 combined requirements in all.

  • Those countries that have taken little notice of pig welfare laws will already be following about half of these rules as routine, good farm practices. Even so, by 2013, they will not only have a lot of thinking to do but will be spending a lot of money falling in line or simply catching up.

  • Number 12 on the list (above) will hit them hardest — weaning at 28 days or older. They can retain the 21-day minimum, providing they go AIAO and modernize their postweaning housing to satisfy inspection.

    In Great Britain, we have already done some work where we have weaned at 28 days into segregated, AIAO nurseries. The improved performance to slaughter and extra income/pig considerably outweighs the extra cost of moving to 28-day weaning, less a small extra cost of the farrowing accommodations needed.

  • Number 6 on my list — the manipulative material requirement — is a real whammy with serious implications for those existing farms with slotted floors and slurry. Projected costs of compliance for a British farmer with 400 sows producing 8,000 finished pigs ranges between $1.13 to $5.00/pig (there are two systems we could install).

At present, a finished pig here sells for about $105. But this assumes the system has mostly solid floors. To convert slotted floors to a solid floor system would be economically prohibitive. The fur will really fly on this one, except for those building new, who can start from scratch.

Total Cost of New Regulations

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (the British successor to our former Ministry of Agriculture) has provisionally calculated the extra cost of all the new welfare proposals — including interest, labor and slowed production turnaround — at between $9 million and $17 million a year. Most of us British have to take this additional cost on board from 2003. That's $15-28/sow.

But it will be far, far higher for those EU nations that can be considered “welfare laggards,” even if they do have 10 years to prepare for it.

Europe is ahead of the U.S. in animal welfare regulations. You'd better keep an eye on our experiences and our costs from now on, I think, in case the welfare breeze blows your way.