New EU rules related to ESF
The new EU rules have many requirements. They take effect on new farms in 2003 and on all farms in 2013 (a 10-year phase-in). The "feeding simultaneously" rule, in its entirety, is as follows:
6. All pigs must be fed at least once a day. Where pigs are fed in groups and not ad libitum or by an automatic system feeding the animals individually, each must have access to the food at the same time as others in the group.
The problem with this rule, as written, is that it is unclear. It could be interpreted that when sows (or growing pigs) have an automatic feeding system (ex., ESF) either sows must have access to food at the same time, or if could be interpreted that an automatic feeding system is an exception to the rule that they must have access to food at the same time. Several EU scientists were contacted and again, differing interpretations of the rule were given.
Why is this an issue? The desire in the new EU rule is for pigs to have an opportunity to eat simultaneously. This is one behavior (eating as a social group) that some pig scientists consider important to pig welfare (especially pregnant sows because they eat together in the wild). Still, simultaneous eating is not considered as important as other housing system features (such as turning and non-feeding social interactions). For a more complete discussion of this subject, see the PhD thesis by Marc B. M. Bracke (Modelling of animal welfare, 2001, University of Wageningen).
One European scientist offered a solution: have at least two feeding stations in each pen. Of course, this is not how they are presently designed.
It is best that if one is to consider a system that automatically feeds sows (or growing pigs), that you read the EU rule, understand the basic pig biology that is its underpinning, and decide for yourself what to do. ESF systems are certainly not now banned by this rule.