Animal welfare campaigners have found that over eight million sows across Europe spend nearly half of their adult lives, every year, in cages, suffering ‘unimaginably miserable lives.’
An investigation by Compassion in World Farming (CWF), found that female pigs are forced to live in cages so small they can only stand up and lie down.
The group filmed evidence from 16 ‘sow farms’ in Italy, Spain, France and Poland including those supplying premium Parma and Bayonne hams to UK supermarkets.
CWF said the animals lie in their own bodily waste, are unable to nurture their young, and resort to abnormal behaviour.
‘People who pay a premium for products like Parma and Bayonne hams are likely to be shocked to discover that these ‘high-end’ products are from systems that keep animals in such cruel cages,’ said Sarah Moyes, the group’s senior campaigns manager.
‘They are forced to live unimaginably miserable lives – they can’t move around, properly nurture their young, or express natural behaviours, and they’re so frustrated they resort to abnormal behaviours like bar biting.’
CWF’s investigators said that 85 per cent of female pigs in the EU are kept in these conditions.
The cages have been banned in the UK since 1999, but their limited use is still allowed in the EU and import to Britain of produce generated by their use is legal.
Moyes said: ‘Compassion in World Farming would like to see all retailers, producers and food companies, make cage-free commitments for food production.
‘The point is that these luxury products come from pigs reared in the same cruel conditions.’
‘Rather than buying Parma and Bayonne products, we encourage consumers to consider buying meat from free-range or organic producers here in the UK – where pigs are kept outdoors, rather than in cages – or opt for a plant-based alternative.’
The group is also sending its findings to agriculture ministers across Europe and urging them to introduce a ban on caged farming without delay.
Last year, the European Commission publicly committed to introducing legislation to end the caging of EU farm animals. This pledge was made in response to the End the Cage Age European Citizens’ Initiative, led by CWF, which gathered 1.4 million signatures from citizens across the EU. However no action has yet been taken
Around eight million hams branded Parma are produced in Italy every year – 36 per cent of these are exported. Just under half of all exported Parma is sold within the EU although the UK is the top export market for pre-sliced Parma ham.
Around a million Bayonne hams are produced in France every year, with some for home consumption and the rest exported to countries including the UK, USA, Germany, Belgium and Japan.
The British Retail Consortium said UK retailers had led the way in requiring high animal welfare standards from all its farmers.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability said: ‘It is more challenging with speciality hams where the UK has a small share of a highly regulated product, and the focus is on production methods.’
UK supermarkets also responded, with Tesco saying it does not stock produce from farms using cages. Waitrose is working towards the same goal by 2025 and Sainsbury’s said it does not sell Bayonne ham.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson stated: ‘All our suppliers have to meet strict welfare standards and be certified under one of our approved farm assurance schemes, in addition to complying with EU legislation.’