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Mixed blessings ...

Lindhart Nielsen, Chairman of the Danish Pig Research Centre, described the recent government proposals on new welfare legislation as a 'mixed blessing' for Danish pig farmers. He also expressed concern about plans to introduce new financial penalties for the 200 producers identified as the highest users of antibiotics under the 'Yellow Card' scheme.

The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries recently announced a series of new proposals to support continuing improvements in pig welfare in Denmark. The announcement followed the recommendations of a specialist working group.

A Bill will be presented to the Danish Folketing (Parliament) later this year, which will require the ‘loose housing’ of sows after weaning and service. This requirement will apply to all new buildings from January 2015 and will be rolled out to all units by 2035. The recently introduced EU pig welfare regulations allow sows to be confined for up to four weeks post-service.

However, the proposal will allow dry sows to be housed in stalls for up to three days in the oestrus period. This makes sense both from a welfare and from a production perspective as there is a particular risk during the period from weaning to post-service. The sows can, for example, injure each other during oestrus, by jumping on each other.

The Danish Pig Research Centre is undertaking projects with a view to improving the design of the loose housing pens as well as non-slip flooring, in order to be able to manage the sows that need extra attention.

Lindhart Nielsen, Chairman of the Danish Pig Research Centre, described the new proposals as a ‘mixed blessing’. Although a significant number of Danish farmers, producing under the UK Contract and other specialist schemes, are already meeting these requirements, the proposals will result in additional costs arising from extra space and flooring requirements. They will add to the Danish industry’s costs at a time when there is abundant evidence that many pig producers across Europe have yet to implement the new EU rules, which came into effect in January this year.

The government proposals also include an allocation of DKK 10m (£1.2m) to support the continuing development of new ‘free farrowing’ systems for sows during 2013 and 2014, and an additional DKK 13m (£1.5m) to support development of alternatives to ‘tail docking’ and ‘castration’.

Mr Nielsen also expressed concern about a proposal from the Danish Parliament to penalise 200 pig producers, identified as the highest users of antibiotics through the authorities’ ‘Yellow Card’ scheme, via information from the VETSTAT database.

Danish pig farmers have already taken numerous initiatives to eliminate unnecessary use of antibiotics as well as agreeing on a voluntary basis to stop using medicines such as fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins, which had a major role in eliminating infections in the human population. Recent research undertaken by the University of Copenhagen had identified increasing levels of piglet mortality among some producers who had reduced use of antibiotics after receiving a ‘Yellow Card’ from the authorities.

The Guardian reported that Britain urged more action to be taken internationally, at the recent G8 Summit, to counter the risk of the spread of antibiotic resistance, by more prudent use of antibiotics for treatment of infections among humans and in livestock.