10 May 2002

FOODCHAINMOVEREALPROGRESS

DESPITE the industrys constant calls for action, it has taken the Curry Report to kick-start the government, writes Derek Wells of Pig Facts independent consultancy.

While the report has been received by pig producers with mixed emotions, recent vibes indicate that some progress is finally being made on what the industry has been emphasising for years.

DEFRA has finally agreed to spend £300,000 setting up a permanent Food Chain Centre, bringing interested parties together from every link of that chain.

For pigs, one assumes that this will include producers, abattoir owners, meat wholesalers and retailers. By retailers, one must insist this includes supermarkets, who currently sell more than 70% of all pigmeat.

The report emphasises two-way flow of information. Until now, producers have been locked in a one-way system – with them providing information, but with little feedback from other sections of the food chain.

Take for example the cost of producing 1kg of pigmeat. A recent assessment shows the cost of producing 1kg of pigmeat on-farm contributes to only 48% of the total cost of producing 1kg of pork for the retailers shelf.

With the current cost of production being about 104p/kg dead weight, the total cost involved to present that joint of pork is 217p/kg.

Financial benefit

It intrigues me as to who could be benefiting financially. Is it the producer, receiving under 100p/kg for the product or the consumer, paying an average 450p/kg for the joint at the retail outlet?

Pig producers should welcome this two-way flow of information. The sooner the better, but we want the truth and nothing but.

Other measures in the government action plan requiring immediate action are sampling all meat imports and more powers to detect illegal meat entering the country. The use of detection dogs and X-ray machines is being suggested. I believe dogs are a greater deterrent.

As the government has given its assurance that these standards will be introduced, we must hold it to its word.

The Curry Report also recommends greater efforts should be made to establish an EU-wide agreement on the raising of animal welfare standards.

The old cliché of a level playing field has again been quoted. Remember stall and tethers, banned in the UK since January 1999? If not, I suggest you visit pig units in mainland Europe which still have them in use.

Pig producers have, for a long time, experienced difficult times and I have nothing but admiration for those who have survived against all odds.

Rising returns?

With sow numbers and weekly slaughtering falling, returns should rise. But if prices spiral too high, meat buyers will shut the door on the UK and look to imports.

This is where our government must act as the industry bouncer, preventing any meat entering which does not reach UK standards, either in quality or welfare standards.

If all these aspects discussed were to come to fruition, the Curry Report will be deemed successful. The first step appears to have been achieved as government is finally listening. Now we want action. &#42

Government is finally listening to pig producer demands. Now action is needed, says Derek Wells.