Too little, too late for UK pig industry

By Peter Crichton

RECENT announcements concerning better labelling of UK pigmeat will come too late for over 1000 pig producers according to the NFU.

Despite all the attention focused on the welfare and food safety advantages of pigmeat produced in the UK, imports continue to flood in undercutting the home market.

As visitors to the massive VIV livestock show in Holland last week will have seen, many of the systems on display concentrated on intensive pigmeat production methods no longer legal in the UK.

These include the use of stall-and-tether systems and the wide use of rendered products in animal feedstuffs.

According to the latest Signet figures for October, UK pigmeat prices are the highest in the Big Six EU producer countries, and producer returns in all these countries fell during the month.

This leaves the UK vulnerable to further imports and struggling to export while the Pound stays at its current high levels.

As a result, further UK herds are now being culled and receivers are moving in on some major operators.

At the same time, cull sow prices are on the floor with an average 250 sow herd worth no more than £12,000.

Unless EU pig numbers fall sharply or the Pound collapses it is hard to see how the UK herd can survive at present levels.

A drop to a weekly kill of about 200,000 head could become a reality by June 2000, which will lead to the closure of up to 40% of slaughtering capacity.

British Pig Industry Support Group members are still pressing for better labelling of all pigmeat with the country of origin clearly stated.

Both Tesco and Asda have promised to address this issue and this could help to lift producer prices.

But in the face of this all the major retailers are entering a price war following the Wal-Mart takeover at Asda.

There are signs that stiff price competition between the supermarkets will lead to further downward pressure on producer prices as the retailers seek to preserve their margins.

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

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