By Peter Crichton

PIG farmers are becoming increasingly worried that their European competitors are using “welfare-unfriendly” rearing methods to produce cheap pigmeat and gain a foothold on the UK market.

Pigmeat produced to welfare standards laid down by the Farm Assured British Pigs scheme accounts for about 75% of all pigs slaughtered in this country. But many domestic farmers claim that cheap imported pigmeat is produced using methods which fall below UK animal welfare standards.

The basic FAB rules cover many important welfare aspects including water supply, stocking rates and the overall quality of the individual pig units. The FAB scheme also demands sound veterinary procedures, and stringent haulage and handling standards.

Reports that these rules will be tightened in the near future have spurred UK producers to demand that the welfare benefits of the FAB scheme should be better promoted to shoppers.

They argue that consumers should made more aware of the associated animal welfare and traceability benefits that the UK product has over many foreign pigmeat imports.

UK producer groups are also concerned that consumers might be confused by the labels used to promote welfare-friendly pigmeat. “Marketing banners” currently being used in the retail sector include Freedom Food, British Charter, FAB Approved, and the seemingly ubiquitous “free range”.

Many producers say that a better strategy would be a single well-promoted British branded product to allow domestic producers to gain a greater share of the market in the face of strong foreign competition.