By Peter Crichton
ALTHOUGH UK pig producers are receiving their lowest returns in real terms since the 1930s, retail prices have remained high.
According to the Signets November 1998 statistics, the farmgate-to-retail gap stands at 413%, compared with 236% in 1995.
The stall-and-tether ban becomes law in the UK at the end of the year, and many retailers are regarding this as the jumping-off point as far as their sourcing arrangements are concerned.
Pressure is mounting on British Retail Consortium members to apply UK welfare and meat-and-bonemeal exclusion standards to all imported pigmeat.
Although a number of EU countries are moving towards the UK specification, these are believed to be far from universal, and may help to stimulate demand for UK pigmeat against more competitive European prices.
Apart from France, UK prices are the highest in the big six pig-producing EU members, due in part to the continuing strength of the Pound, currently at almost DM2.80.
However, grading specifications, carcass weights and base prices differ from country to country. Not only does the UK have the lightest overall carcass weight, but also the highest level of bottom-line deductions, which now account for almost £2.20/pig.
Another factor contriving to hold down UK prices is the high availability of slaughter pigs, despite increased sow slaughterings.
The November kill stands at the 1997 level of 322,000 head, although sow slaughterings over the year have recorded a rise of almost 20%.
Some industry sources believe that this is accounted for by a black hole in the June census figures, which exclude a number of outdoor herds on rented land where neither the landowner nor the pig farmer have been allowed for.