The statistics tell a stark story. In the past 10 years the British pig industry has seen a decline of 40%.
Some of the industry’s biggest players face the prospect of going out of business this year. And there is a danger that this decline could be terminal unless consumers are prepared to pay a price that covers the cost of production.
Feed prices and the loss of valuable export markets in the wake of last summer’s foot-and-mouth disease outbreak means that many pig farmers lose an average of £26 on every pig they sell. These shocking figures add up to losses of £6 a second or £3.6m a week for the industry.
Waitrose has stood by its farmers and suppliers during this difficult time, and we aim to pay our farmers a sustainable price, despite market challenges.
Although these problems are widely known in the farming world, many consumers remain unaware that so many British farmers are struggling.
The Save Our Bacon campaign is backed by a long list of leading chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein, Angela Hartnett and Heston Blumenthal.
With their support, we’ve got a great opportunity to get the message across to the public. There’s a huge interest in provenance and British produce among consumers at the moment.
As well as being an important part of our rural economy, there is a real risk that the spiralling decline in Britain’s breeding herd will lead retailers to source more of their pork and bacon from Europe, where welfare standards are often considerably lower.
In parts of Europe, pregnant sows are kept in stalls or tethered for their entire gestation period, which stops them expressing natural behaviour.
Conversely, while consumers are now demanding higher welfare for poultry following high-profile campaigns by Jamie Oliver et al, we face the possibility of a deterioration in animal welfare for pork, ham and bacon.
I’m proud of the relationships we’ve built with our farmers and our high animal welfare values. None of our suppliers of fresh pork, bacon and sausages uses farrowing crates, and all work to both the Assured British Pig Scheme and the RSPCA’s Freedom Food Scheme standards.
I’m sure that if British customers were made aware of welfare implications, via consistent labelling and information, they would be prepared to pay a fair price for British bacon.
But it’s not just because of high welfare standards that consumers should buy British pork, sausages and ham.
I fully support Waitrose Food Illustrated editor William Sitwell when he says: “British pork is the world’s tastiest. For that reason alone consumers should buy British.”
To support the Save our Bacon campaign visit www.waitrose.com/saveourbacon.
Waitrose meat buyer Jane Clarke is committed to paying a sustainable pig price.
See also: Rise in pig price urgently needed.