British food is best. This often-repeated mantra reassures farmers they are doing the right thing and tempts consumers to buy British produce. But is it true?
When it comes to pigmeat, British producers have set the pace in pioneering stall-and-tether-free systems. Unlike some, they also do not castrate boars.
But other EU producers have standards that some British pig producers would struggle to attain. The Dutch give their finishers more space in which to move. They also provide a proportion of solid floor in their pens to add comfort.
The Danes provide their finishers with showers to cool them in summer. And they have to meet stricter environmental standards to control nitrates.
And where there is demand for stall-and tether-free pigmeat, these countries meet it with pigs reared on UK-specific contracts. Other member states supplying the UK do the same.
British pig producers have every right to try to differentiate their product, but it must be done in a positive way. The reality is there are more similarities than differences between European suppliers to the UK market.
Suggesting that most imported product is illegal – and by implication, sub-standard – runs the risk of putting people off pigmeat altogether.
It also diverts attention from the fact that the real growth in imports post-World Trade Organisation reforms is likely to be from non-traditional suppliers, according to our exclusive investigation. Those include the USA, where meat and bonemeal is part of the staple diet, and Brazil, where environmental standards are lower and inputs are cheaper.
If that”s true, co-operation, rather than confrontation, with other EU pig producers to counter the threat of American imports seems a policy calculated to deliver results.