Despite reassurances to the contrary, seven months after the European Union (EU) introduced a ban on individual sow gestation stalls (except for the first four weeks of pregnancy), half of EU countries have failed to comply with the ban.

In response, retailers and food manufacturers must continue to be vigilant, warns Britain's National Pig Association (NPA). It argues that British consumers expect all imported pork and pork products to be traceable back to farms that comply with the European Union's January 2013 ban on the full-time use of sow stalls.

According to new data from the European Commission only 13 member countries are fully compliant — Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Sow stalls have been banned outright in the United Kingdom since 1999.

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The commission started infringement proceedings against nine countries in February — Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Poland and Portugal. The Netherlands, Italy, Hungary, Finland, and Slovenia are still being investigated.

NPA has been praised by government for its “Wall of Fame” campaign to persuade retailers and food companies to pledge they will not import pork and pork products from non-compliant pig farms on the continent. The association is currently carrying out a number of spot checks, to ensure companies that made the Wall of Fame pledge at www.npa-uk.org.uk are in compliance.

“Sow stalls are narrow cages. They make life easier for pig farmers, but they are medieval in the eyes of British consumers because the sows spend most of their lives being able to do little more than stand up and lie down,” says NPA general manager Zoe Davies. “The response to our campaign for traceable higher-welfare pork for British consumers has been outstanding — far better than we ever envisaged.”

NPA is confident that the pledges on its Wall of Fame have helped reduce the flow of pork from illegally-operated farms. At the beginning of the year, NPA estimated as many as 40,000 pigs an hour were being delivered to continental processing plants from illegally-operated pig farms. As Britain imports around 60% of its processed pork, it was feared that many British consumers were unwittingly supporting the trade in illegally-farmed pigs.

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