European pork production steadily declines

European pork production
Photo: Canva

The pork production in Europe continues its steady decline. In the first 7 months of 2023, pork production in the EU-27 countries totalled 11.9 million tonnes. That is 8% less than in the same period last year. This marks the second year in a row of production decline, as production for 2023 is down by over 10% from the 5-year average. The EU commissions latest forecast for pig meat production in 2023 is that the year ends with 6.6 less%.

Figures are down in all major European pork producing countries. In Spain, by far the largest pig country in Europe, 56.3 million pigs were slaughtered last year, according to the ministry of Agriculture. That is 2.1 million or 3.5% less than in 2021, and a return to the level of the previous year. In tonnage, Spain produced 5,027 million tonnes of pork last year. This is a decrease of just 3% compared to the previous year. In this country too, the decline seems to continue with 30.6 million pigs slaughtered in the first 7 months of this year. On an annual basis, that would amount to just over 52 million for the whole of 2023.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, 780.000 pigs were slaughtered in September 2023. This is 11% less than in the same period last year, Defra reported. Pigmeat production was 73,000 tonnes, 10.2% less than in September 2022. The annual agricultural sensus showed a decline of some 10% in the number of breeding sows in the UK. Recently, there a some green shoots appearing, with higher pig prices leading to a slight improvement in profitability for pig farmers, according to levy organisation AHDB.

Import to the UK

EU imports of pork to the UK totalled 84,000 tonnes up to the end of July. This is a fall of 16,200 tonnes (-16%) compared to the same time last year. “This is despite a fall in domestic production, which may have necessitated higher imports to meet demand. This indicates that overall demand for pork has fallen as consumers face cost of living crises,” AHDB said.

4,3 less pigs slaughtered in France

The French agricultural statistics office Agreste reports 1.716 million pigs slaughtered in August, which is 4.3% less and also 7.9% under the 5-yearly average for that month. Agreste also reports a decline of just over 3% in the French pork consumption. As a result, France imported 7.1% less pork and pork products in July 2023, totalling 49 million tonnes. Exports decreased with 9.1% to 42 million pounds. The trade balance for pork and pork products is still heavily negative, which irritates both the livestock organisations and the government.

Serious consequences for pig processing industry

Slaughter figures are also down in other major pork producion countries like Germany (-9%), the Netherlands (-15%) and Denmark (-21%). The steady decline has serious consequences for the pig processing industry. Dutch meat producer Vion Food Group adjusted its production capacities in Germany to the market by implementing reorganisations at its Emstek, Holdorf and Landshut sites. Recently, Vion also announced the closure of its Großostheim site in Bavaria, Germany with a further loss of 220 jobs. Tonniës, the largest pig processor in Germany, also closed sites or otherwise adjusted its production capacity.

In the UK, Pilgrim UK, part of Brazilian meat giant JBS, closed a number of sites it acquired earlier from the British brand of Danish Crown Tulip UK. In July, Pilgrim UK announced the cease of production at Ashton-under-line with a loss of 542 jobs, after earlier site closures at Coalville and Bury St Edmunds. In Denmark, the largest producer Danish Crown announced a major restructuring and cost-cutting operation this summer. “Since spring 2022, Danish Crown has been severely challenged in terms of its competitive strength. Even though current prices for pigs are close to a record-high, settlement prices for pigs in Denmark are currently far below those of the rest of Europe. Consequently, it has not been sufficiently attractive for Danish farmers to fatten pigs for slaughter in Denmark, so over the course of the summer period management has dedicated its efforts to drawing up a plan to simplify and rethink Danish Crown’s core business,” the company said at that occasion.

Ruud Peijs International Journalist
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