By Peter Crichton

THERE were very few positive signs of an end to the current price crisis at the 1999 Pig Fair at Stoneleigh this week.

Equipment manufacturers reported thin order books and plenty of lookers, but few takers.

Breeding companies also noted a generally cautious approach from producers and a lack of many long-term commitments.

On the processing and retail front, the message was the same – UK prices will remain tied to EU levels.

With the strong Pound, the home industry will continue to operate at a competitive disadvantage, with little or no premium for the welfare-friendly UK product.

Tesco made this clear to producers at the Avonmore seminar held on Wednesday at the show. Tesco claims to be the largest seller of pigmeat in the UK.

The retailer said that if there was more than a slight price differential on its counters between home-produced and imported products, its customers would vote with their purses and UK pig farmers would loose out.

Chris Ling of Tesco also confirmed that the “ethical standards” promoted by the company over the past five years also had to be modified to allow them to retain price advantage over their competitors.

Although there were calls from producers for branded pigmeat to be labelled that it may have come from a low-welfare, non UK-acceptable meat and bonemeal-fed system, retailers dismissed this as an option.

Members of the British Pig Industry Support Group (BPISG) also appeared despondent over the future of their industry.

A planned 4pm meeting on the Wednesday failed to attract enough attention to go ahead.

Finally, as a footnote to the last Pig Fair this century, it was noted that the “partnership” theme promoted between producers and processors seems to have faded away.

Pig farmers pointed out that this was dramatically illustrated by the huge empty space left by the Malton stand as the processor had pulled out of the fair at the last minute.

The empty space was occupied instead by members of the BPISG.