The irony could be profound: Animal activists in Europe succeed in getting rid of gestation-sow stalls only to have more industrialized hog farms rise up as a result.  

It could happen, points out Mike Sheldon, pig farmer in the United Kingdom and board member of BPEX, which is the English equivalent of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC).

Losing gestation stalls will force many farmers out of business, Sheldon told those attending the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit this week.  Then, with fewer farms, hog prices will rise and give the remaining companies a chance to put up new facilities. It will be the larger, integrated companies that will be in the best position to do that, Sheldon said.

According to a European Union directive, gestation-sow stalls are to be phased out by January 2013. Each country in the EU is supposed to come up with its own law enforcing the action.

Three member states ― the United Kingdom, Sweden and Luxembourg ― are already 100 percent complaint with the gestation-stall ban, Sheldon said. Twelve others say they will be 100 percent compliant by January 2013, he added. The remaining states will anywhere from 90 percent compliant to less than 70 percent compliant. 

The United Kingdom, where Sheldon farms, is a barometer of what will happen, since it has had the ban in place since 1999.

Basically, the ban cut the number of sows in the UK by half. “A lot of production went to Denmark” where sow stalls remained in use, Sheldon said.

The imminent ban on gestation stalls throughout the EU also could affect the price of pork.  

Already, a ban of battery cages for layer hens in the EU has “rocketed” egg prices, Sheldon said, 

It’s a cautionary tale for what could happen in the United States.

According to the firm Agralytica, which also presented at the Animal Agriculture Alliance meeting, a comparable ban on gestation-sow stalls in the U.S. would cost pork producers $5.8 billion in capital costs having to re-do their facilities. On top of that, annual operating costs would rise by $1.1 billion, which includes having to raise pigs under less-efficient conditions, says Andre Williamson, senior consultant at Agralytica.