VEGA News Item

Pigging Out in British Food Supplies - 30/04/2008
Effects on Farm Animal Welfare
Britain’s pig farmers are sending increasing numbers of breeding animals to slaughter to avoid the steep rises expected in the cost of feedstuffs. Forecasts estimate losses to the industry of £200 million this year. The British breeding herd is now, at a level of 436,000 sows, at half of what it was a decade ago. BPEX, the British Pig Executive, which was formed out of the Meat and Livestock Commission, warns of a further decline of 10% this year and forecasts losses to farmers of £22 per animal. BPEX bemoans the rising costs of wheat, corn (maize), and soya meal. “Many are pulling out of pig-rearing altogether” reports the Times (UK Business 26 April 2008).

“It’s a capital-intensive business. In order to stay in you need to invest. In the first 3 months of the year there has been a 35% increase in the number of breeding sows sent to slaughter,” states Mick Sloyan of BPEX. Farmers are killing breeding stock to reduce the costs of feeding sows and piglets. It reduces further an industry that supplies only half the pork and bacon consumed in Britain.

European pig farmers are filling the gap and Mr Sloyan adds that “British animal welfare regulations increased the cost of British pork while giving an advantage to cheaper continental European meat produced under less favourable conditions.” Rising prices of grain have increased the costs of feed by 70% since 2006 and have sent the costs of producing pigmeat up by about 45% over 2 years. The poultry and pig industries are particularly sensitive to the price of feeds, which account for about 60% of the costs of production. The crassness in growing feed (and biofuels), not food are demonstrated clearly in these systems. My Sloyan says that farmers need a 50% increase in the farm gate price to recoup their costs. “There will be a reaction in the market eventually”, he says.

Imported meats will be affected and the reactions may erupt in various ways: the price may reduce the demand for pork and bacon or, concurrently, wealthier consumers may fall in with value-adding as an alternative associated with decreased consumption. The House of Commons catering service illustrates effects that our MPs will experience: all of its fresh pork is from free-range pigs reared and slaughtered in West Sussex; bacon is from animals reared and slaughtered in Norfolk and cured in East Anglia; and sausages are made from free-range pigs reared and slaughtered in North Yorkshire. Among the varying welfare issues mentioned by Mick Sloyan the matter of the unkindest cut features: most British male pigs grow fast and can be killed at about 6 moths old and before puberty, so risk of boar taint is minimized, whereas meat imported from the rest of Europe comes from castrated animals. And there remains the market for “wild” boar meat, which will be a topic for MPs for a number of constituencies.  

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