Pork imports rise 18% as pig numbers shrink
By Vicky Houchin
PORK imports have increased sharply in the first half of the year despite claims by major retailers that they are doing everything they can to source British pork.
Overall imports rose 18%, or 14,500t, to top 85,000t compared with the first six months of 1998. The biggest increases came from Belgium (+51%), Denmark (+21%) and Holland (+34%), according to the Meat and Livestock Commission.
The MLC blames the contraction in the UK pig herd which has fallen 9% over the year and the low cost of imports, made cheaper by the strong £. British pigs are currently worth about 83p/kg deadweight, compared with almost 75p/kg in Denmark and about 68p/kg in Holland.
Supermarkets have increased their purchases of pork imports as a result, says the MLC.
Tesco sources 100% British pork and sausages, says the firms Chris Ling. But only half of its bacon comes from the UK, compared with 60% before the UK kill fell.
Other supermarkets also claim they are supporting beleaguered pig farmers. "Were looking for ways to increase our supplies of British pork," says a spokeswoman from Sainsbury.
All the companys pork sausages and wafer thin honey roast ham, as well as 97% of its fresh pork, is British, she claims. But only 60% of its bacon was British.
At Safeway, all fresh pork is British, says Kevin Hawkins, communications director. But the company is not running promotions on pork because it cant source enough UK product, he says.
Pigmeat shortages will become even more severe next year unless producer prices improve, warned Stewart Houston, chairman of the British Pig Industry Support Group.
He suspects that most of the additional imports went for processing. But he disputes claims from some retailers that 65% or more of their bacon is home-produced. "They were saying that last year and our supplies have dropped back 20%."
To combat imports and raise awareness of British pork, the MLC has organised a high profile promotional campaign for October.
Television advertising will run alongside retail promotions where consumers can claim £125 off their next ABTA-approved holiday by buying two packs of pork and a pack of sausages.
The campaign will be centred around forequarter pork. Much of this is exported, so adequate supplies of British pork are available, says an MLC spokesman. "Shoulder is one area we can supply." *