WAGENINGEN, The Netherlands – Pork farmers in the Netherlands are approaching the European Union’s deadline for group-gestation sow housing and they are moving beyond those requirements to encompass other sustainability protocols, Annechien ten Have-Mellema, told a five-person team of Americans visiting the country this week. The group is viewing pork and poultry welfare-friendly and sustainable production and processing systems.

As a pork producer from the northern part of Holland, Have-Mellema and her husband run a family operation featuring 320 sows, which they are expanding to 600 head. The operation applies group housing, straw bedding and does not castrate male pigs. She also is the chairman of the pig farming section of the LTO Nederland (which deals with legislation and policy issues) and vice chairman of the Dutch Product Board for Livestock and Meat. As such, she has dealt with multiple sides of issues involving “people, the planet, profit, pigs and pleasure,” she told Pork Network.

The deadline for the EU member countries to implement the gestation-sow stall ban is Jan. 1, 2013. While producers in The Netherlands are well ahead of the adoption curve, other countries are lagging. Even then, Have-Mellema said that she expects some Dutch producers will leave the business. She cited the following reasons:

  • Cost: “They don’t have the money for the investment.”
  • Age: “Depending on their age, it may not be a profitable investment for them.”
  • Environmental issues: This depends on their land base and ability to increase their production footprint.

She expects 10 percent of EU pork producers will stop production, and those that stay will get bigger. There will likely be a period were pork supplies will tighten, she noted, as has been the case with the laying-hen housing conversion and consequent reduction in egg production.

In the new group-housing system, sows will be allowed 4 days in a stall after insemination and then move into a group. But, Have-Mellena expects that option “will eventually go away too.”

Retailers (and NGOs) are not only driving the animal well-being production aspect, but now are focusing on sustainability for pigs and poultry. While they haven’t thoroughly defined what “sustainable” pork production is beyond that it “has to be sustainable for the animal, the environment and human beings”, all Dutch retailers have declared 2020 is the deadline to provide that product. The retailers said they will work with producers, NGOs, scientists and the industry to more thoroughly define “sustainable” production within the next year.

Over the long haul, Dutch consumers will pay the price for these added features, as “producers need a fair price for the product they produce,” said Have-Mellan. How much more, is not yet clear.

The Dutch export 60 percent of the pork they produce. The 40 percent that remains in the country is all domestically reared and the male pigs are not castrated.

 “The farmer has to learn to manage a new system,” Have-Mellan said. “You have to build upon your knowledge and learn what works in your farm, your system. Management is very important in stall systems too.” Her operation has applied group housing for the past 12 years, and “we’re seeing it work out,” she said.