A massive shortage of fresh pork could result from short-sighted policies of major supermarkets, predicts Matthew Curtis, managing director of Yorkshire-based pig-breeding company ACMC Ltd.
“The Dutch-based Rabobank, which is involved in global food and financing, suggests that the EU sow herd will reduce by 7 per cent as a result of the ban on the use of in-humane sow stalls at the end of next year. This represents 1.2 million sows which would be producing around 2.1 million tonnes of pigmeat per annum,” he said. Many European farmers will not be prepared to make the investment in new systems, leading to a production short-fall.
This could present a major opportunity for British pig farmers to expand. They have had welfare-friendly housing systems for over 10 years but are currently losing 16 pence per kg — about £13 per pig — on every animal they produce, because most British supermarkets don’t pay a realistic rate for their pigmeat. Many rely on cheap imports produced under systems outlawed in the UK years ago.
Yet this doesn’t have to be the case, maintains Matthew. He points out that Morrisons supermarket has reported an amazing 39 per cent increase in pork sales in the past year as British shoppers are turning to pork joints as a cheaper alternative to beef and lamb.
“This is not surprising in a time of recession given that the average retail price of pork is 369.4p per kg compared with 592.5p per kg for beef and 768.9p per kg for lamb. What is surprising is that Morrisons are paying the highest price to farmers for their pigs. If they can do it why can’t others?” he asks.
“Supermarkets may argue that they are fighting food inflation.” But he believes that this is short-term thinking. “Pig farmers cannot sustain these losses. If they drive domestic pig producers out of business, then there will be huge inflation in the price of pigmeat,” he said. “They will simply be killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”