By Peter Crichton

PIG producers with outlets for premium-quality stock – like upmarket butchers and delicatessens, or via farm shops – may soon face another challenge to this sector of the trade.

New hygiene charges will particularly hit the small, “niche” abattoirs that serve the premium pork business

On 1 April, the Meat Hygiene Service will be looking for an additional £42 million from the slaughtering sector.

This comes because of the cost of conforming to a Brussels ruling that the UK must comply fully with the EU system of full supervision by expensive veterinary officials, as well as by meat inspectors.

Besides this cost, from 1 April abattoir operators may have to pay the full charge of attendance by MHS officials for a whole week, rather than the existing subsidised charge on a daily basis.

Food minister Jeff Rooker confirmed that the meat industry as a whole will be faced with a 128% increase in costs, which will fall disproportionately on the 300 smaller craft slaughterhouses in the country.

Many of these smaller abattoirs will be faced with closure, leaving the industry in the hands of a dwindling number of larger operators, who will not be interested in offering the specialist butchering skills and contract slaughtering services needed in the niche market.

Although these new costs will affect all meat producers, the impact on the pig sector will be significant and producers fear that there may be further attempts to pass back these costs.

There is already concern in the pig sector over the size of bottom line deductions and the wide variations there are in these charges between plants which are currently between £1.32 & £2.28 per pig.