The English pig breeding herd fell by 1.3% last year, according to the latest pig census released by DEFRA.

But the British Pig Executive has said that the August foot-and-mouth outbreak has distorted a much larger drop in the size of the UK herd which they believed had taken place.

The 2007 F&M outbreak coincided with sharp rises in feed prices, leading to a ban on cull sow exports for the August – November period.

As a result, herd cullings were put on hold and a backlog of cull sows built up which had not been cleared at the time the December 2007 census figures were collated.

Since then, sow cullings have run at 45% above levels for the previous year and the census has revealed that the number of gilts held for breeding was down by almost 20%.

Based upon these much higher culling levels, BPEX calculated this could mean almost one million fewer UK finished pigs coming onto the market by the end of 2008, sucking in yet more imports.

Concerns remain that unless a recent rally in UK pigmeat prices continues and hits the 140p/kg mark soon, the size of the UK herd will continue to decline.

Currently the UK herd comprises just 3.5% of the EU27 country total and the availability of UK pigmeat on retailers’ shelves may become even less in the years ahead.