By Philip Clarke

PIG and poultry producers have enjoyed a fillip to their prices this week as markets at home and abroad respond to the dioxin scare currently hitting Belgian suppliers.

Liveweight pig values in the UK soared by 7p/kg at the start of the week to top 70p/kg for the first time in over a year.

Deadweight prices were also showing some improvement – up 2-3p/kg – though this market usually lags the live trade.

These movements echo what has been going on in continental markets, which are more immediately influenced by events in neighbouring Belgium.

Germany in particular, which normally takes large volumes of pigmeat from Belgium, has had to look to other countries to top-up its needs, following the imposition of a unilateral ban on Belgian livestock.

Combined with a strong consumer preference for home-produced pork, German pigmeat values have climbed from about DM2.2/kg (73p/kg) to DM2.5/kg (83p/kg) in the past 10 days.

Other countries have benefited from the forced removal of Belgian product from supermarket shelves.

Dutch pig prices, for example, have increased from Glds1.73/kg (51p/kg) to over Glds2.00/kg (62p/kg) since the crisis broke at the end of May. (Restrictions on certain Dutch farms believed to have received contaminated feed were lifted earlier this week when tests showed dioxin levels were no different to the norm.)

Belgian farmers, however, have seen their markets collapse, with prices dropping from about BFr43/kg (69p/kg) to less than BFr38/kg (61p/kg) as slaughterhouses closed, exports were banned and consumers turned away from their products.

But the boost this has given to competitor countries – including the UK – could be short-lived.

The Belgian authorities this week planned to lift a general ban on pig slaughterings, even though an EU ruling still restricts the sale of products from farms which received the dioxin contaminated feed.

More worryingly, a number of important Third countries – including the US, Russia, Japan and Hong Kong – have imposed bans on exports of EU pork and poultry.

In the short-term, we have enjoyed a good market situation out of this, with more of our pigs sucked into Germany, said Karsten Flemin of Danish slaughter organisation, Danske Slagterier.

But in the long term we are afraid, because of the loss of exports to some of our key markets.

This sentiment is shared by the Meat and Livestock Commission, which believes the recent price gains could be just a knee jerk reaction, rather than a sustained improvement.

Meanwhile, egg producers have enjoyed about a 10p/doz rise in wholesale prices over the past fortnight, as customers demand UK-produced eggs with the Lion Brand, claims John Patel of the Central Egg Agency.

And free market poultry meat has firmed considerably, according to John Parsons of the NFUs poultry office, mainly as a result of Dutch producers looking to fill the hole in Belgian market, rather than undercutting the UK trade.