By Peter Crichton

PIGMEAT labelling is attracting more interest from the retail sector, as well as at Government level.

The NFU have announced that a British “kitemark” will be appearing on primary farm-assured produce this summer.

Pig-industry lobby groups hope that this new form of labelling will help the consumer to identify with British food produced in an environmentally-friendly way to high standards.

According to the NFU, consumers are more interested in the food safety aspect than in simply buying British food.

The NPA hopes the kite mark will give out strong feed safety and farm-assurance signals that many importers will be unable to match.

A recent NPA briefing on the welfare status of pigmeat imports into the UK makes dismal reading.

They have calculated that over 60% of Dutch, 50% of Danish and almost all of the imports from Eire are being sourced from systems illegal in the UK.

According to industry sources, only 15% of Danish, 10 to 15% of Dutch, 5 to 10% of French and virtually no Irish sows are housed in stall-and-tether-free systems. This compares with 100% in the UK.

At the same time, the volume of these imports has risen sharply and will continue to do so while the Euro remains weak and domestic pig prices are firm.

Over the 1998 and 1999 period, imports of ham have risen by 43%, fresh and chilled pigmeat is up by 25%, and frozen products by 12%.

With the size of the UK herd continuing to contract and the weekly kill down by 40,000 head on the year to 260,000 head, more imports will be sucked into the UK market, many of which will be unable to comply with our welfare rules.

The effects of PDNS and PMWS are continuing to hit the UK herd with East Anglia being particularly badly hit.

At this stage there are no real signs of any slackening in the spread or effects of these killer diseases.

Mortality among growing pigs of 10%-20% will have a further effect on dwindling abattoir throughputs in the months ahead.