PIGMEAT IMPORTS jumped by 14% last year, mostly as bacon entering the food service sector, according to the British Pig Executive.

Its new report estimates imports hit 770,000t in 2003, of which 70% was produced under conditions that fell short of UK minimum animal welfare requirements.

The use of sow stalls and tethers has been banned in the UK since 1999.

BPEX chairman Mick Sloyan said: “Equally concerning was that imports in some sectors rose by more than 14%. For example, live pig imports increased by 43% to 331,000 head.”

Mr Sloyan said the reply from importers was that they were only responding to market demand.

But a survey commissioned by BPEX showed that of 1500 consumers interviewed, 90% were concerned by these figures and believed imported meat should be produced to the same standards as in the UK, he added.

Mr Sloyan claimed that this should be independently audited.

“Ambiguous labelling also needs to be addressed – for example, brands using English-sounding names but imported product.”

Stewart Houston, chairman of the National Pig Association, said the increased imports were partly caused by reduced UK production.

“The BPEX report is part of an ongoing strategy to persuade retailers to support British pigmeat, because of the difference in production standards.

“There is a lot of fresh and frozen pork coming into the country, being processed further and sold on as bacon and ham, but this does not have to be recorded on the label.

“We have written to all the major food service sector players. We would like to work with them, and find ways of providing them with British product,” he said.