Free range pigs but free-fall prices

By Peter Crichton

AS MORE and more domestic pigs are bred to higher standards, many producers are starting to question why the UK market remains so vulnerable to imports.

About 80% of all UK-produced pigs are now reared under farm assurance schemes. And more than 30% of the UK herd is reared on outdoor units.

This has led producers to claim that few EU countries have such high welfare standards. Those producers are demanding better point of sale promotion to emphasise this fact.

They feel that the average consumer would be prepared to pay a premium for UK pigmeat if shoppers were made aware of the better conditions under which UK pigs are reared. This has already occurred in the egg market where supermarkets have seen a surge in demand for non-battery produced eggs, despite a higher shelf price.

A recently produced National Consumer Council also trumpets the merits of outdoor pig production systems. The report Farm Policies and Our Food: The Need for Change identifies antibiotics as a serious threat to public health calls for an EU ban on their use as growth promoters.

The widespread use of antibiotics is closely linked to intensive indoor production systems. Greville Welsh, chief executive of the British Pig Association, has supported the need to market UK pigs as “the best in the world” and this has been backed by Sue Corning, a PIC advisor.

But with the pound at DM2.99 against the Deutschmark, and reports of extra pigmeat production from Spain and Eire, the outlook for the rest of 1998 remains bleak.

Cheaper rations have been a lifesaver for most producers but production costs are still running ahead of returns. And the picture is not expected to change in the near future.

  • Peter Crichton is a Suffolk-based pig farmer offering independent valuation and consultancy services to the UK pig industry

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