By Peter Crichton

DESPITE the efforts of British Pig Industry Support Group members and other industry ginger groups, the UK pig industry continues to be hammered by low priced imports.

The strength of the Pound, currently at DM3.05, has encouraged a rising tide of imports flooding on the home market.

With French, Spanish and Belgium pigmeat prices slumping, the UK has become a bigger target for their surplus pigmeat and, despite agriculture minister Nick Browns pledge to tighten up on food labelling, little seems to have changed at the retail end.

As a result, more UK pig producers are being forced to cull their herds and trade sources believe that the existing weekly kill of 270,000 could fall to about 200,000 in six months time.

However, meat buyers and processors have indicated that they will replace lost UK products with imports rather than chase up domestic prices.

The weakness of the home trade is illustrated by the further slide of the UK AESA, which has slipped to stand at just 76.28p/kg.

Over 70% of the UK pigs traded on a contract basis with linkage to the UK AESA, and even if spot demand improves during the run up to Christmas this is likely to have little effect on the index price which influences producer returns to such a great extent.

With only five clear slaughtering weeks left before the end of the year and extended holiday period, additional contract pigs will soon be brought forward creating further temporary over supply at a time when demand normally starts to weaken.

The AEX pig futures market also reflects a flat demand in the year ahead, with the march quote of 59.75p/kg liveweight little better than the December figure of 56.75p.

The NFU is staging a series of meetings with leading UK supermarkets in a plea for a fairer deal for livestock farmers and more sourcing of British products.

But lower-priced imports will continue to penetrate the UK market unless clearer country of origin labelling is also introduced, according NFU head of food and marketing, Helen Lo.

Weaner producers are also struggling as the latest Farmers Weekly 30kg price stuck at £19.32/head, at least £12 adrift of the Signet cost of production figure.

According to pig analysts the UK industry will continue to struggle with cheaper foreign imports and producers should look harder at niche markets such as heavy 85kg deadweight gilt production.

Other added value opportunities which may arise should also be considered, including organic production systems.