By FWi staff

SPECULATION that Malton Foods, the UKs biggest pigmeat processor, might be spun off by parent Uniq rose this week.

The subsidiary reported a loss of 5.4 million for the six months to 30 September.

In the same period last year, Malton made a profit of 1.3m.

The drop was blamed on the spiralling cost of domestic pigs, up a fifth on the year, which made them 25% more expensive than Continental supplies.

Uniq is the new name for Unigate after the divestment of its dairy and cheese businesses to Dairy Crest earlier this year.

Overall, it generated an operating profit (before goodwill and exceptionals) of 32m.

The core convenience foods business accounted for just over 20m of that, up 19%.

“In a period of significant change for the group, the results were held back by the disappointing performance of Malton Foods,” said Uniqs chief executive Ross Buckland.

John Nicholson, of the Farmers Bank Action Group, believes farmers could buy the troubled company.

“I have heard Uniq will sell Malton for 1p plus the working capital.

“The pig farmers could manage the 1p and the NFU could find the rest, and the pig industry would then be in a position to go forward.

If it gets any smaller, who will buy all these UK cereals? Malton is the opportunity the whole industry needs.”