Thank you for your email about the Pig Husbandry (Farrowing) Bill and your support for ending the so-called ‘cage age’.
In our 2019 Animal Welfare manifesto, the Labour Party committed to introducing a phased ban on sow farrowing crates and pledged to end the use of cages on British farms by 2025. That remains the logical next step in our long-running efforts as a party to ensure that pigs on British farms are not kept in cruel and unnatural positions of confinement.
Those of us with long memories will remember in 1999 when the UK rightly banned sow stalls, the steel cages used to hold female breeding pigs in place during their pregnancies, preventing them from turning around or lying on their sides, let alone socialising with other pigs, and resulting in crippling physical and mental damage.
As Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, the use of farrowing crates and sow stalls concerns me greatly, not only from an animal welfare perspective, but also from the perspective of trade. Where countries use farming practices which do not meet the UK’s high animal welfare standards, our farmers have the potential to be undercut by cheap, low standard imports, based on unacceptable cruelty in the way that their animals are kept.
I am clear that this is not just a question of economics – it is also a question of morality. Where we have rightly taken action to ban inhumane practices towards animals in our farms, I do not want to see that cruelty imported from overseas instead.
Since becoming Shadow International Trade Secretary, I have supported and worked closely with the various campaigns that have been launched by Save our Standards, the RSPCA, Which?, Save British Farming, the National Farmers Union and others on food and farming standards to try and turn their strong public support into concrete parliamentary action.
I personally led the efforts to force amendments to the Trade Bill, which would have made it unlawful for the government to do trade deals allowing the import of agricultural products that do not meet the standards that UK farmers are required to meet, on food safety, animal welfare and the environment. Although the government ultimately rejected these amendments to the Trade Bill, my commitment on this issue remains.
I will therefore continue to support the phasing out of farrowing crates in the UK, and – just as importantly, in my view – I will continue to argue that we must put in place new rules which ban the importation of meat produced in conditions that are illegal in this country, whether that involves the use of sow stalls today, or the use of farrowing crates in the future.
Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue. If you have any other points you would like to raise with me, please do not hesitate to get back in touch.
The Rt Hon. Emily Thornberry MP
Islington South and Finsbury
Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade