Blog written by Claire Hamlett, a freelance journalist and contributor
The British pig industry has a new problem to worry about after already being in crisis-mode for the past two years. Rare breeds of pig including the Oxford Sandy and Black, the British Landrace, and the Gloucestershire Old Spot are at risk of dying out as fewer farmers can afford to keep them and the number of piglets being born declines. This mirrors the overall decline in the British pig herd, which has fallen from around 8 to 5 million since the 1990s.
Last year, the National Pig Association warned that the industry was on the brink of collapse. A combination of Brexit leading to an exodus of European butchers and meat processing workers and rising feed and energy costs due to the war in Ukraine led to more than 40,000 pigs being killed on farms in 2021 and early 2022. Because their slaughter did not happen in slaughterhouses, they could not be classed as fit for human consumption and were likely to have ended up being turned into biodiesel, food for companion animals, or feed for other animals who are farmed. In response to this crisis, British supermarkets started offering up financial support for beleaguered pig farmers, with some paying more for British pork and others helping to cover production costs including labour, fuel, and feed.
Another development that could put further pressure on the industry is the opening of a new bacon factory in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, which Danish Crown announced in November 2022. The factory will only use pig ‘meat’ imported from Denmark and is set to start operating later this year, producing over 900 tonnes of bacon and gammon each week. The UK already imports 40 to 50 percent of its pig products as retailers and shoppers have failed to shell out for the “higher welfare” pig meat they appeared to want when the UK became only the second European country (after Sweden) to ban the use of gestation crates for pregnant sows in 1999. The rest of the European Union only followed suit in 2013.
The industry seems beset by other unfolding scandals right now. A recent investigation by Farmers’ Weekly discovered that each week a major UK food manufacturer had been sneaking tens of thousands of tonnes of pork imported from abroad–some of it rotting–into ready meals and other products sold in major supermarkets. The products were mislabelled as containing British pork. The manufacturer reportedly hid rotting meat from view when inspectors from the Food Standards Agency came to visit and later “washed” it and mixed it with fresh pork for further processing.
Last week it also emerged that the UK government had failed to implement post-Brexit checks on meat imported from the EU, resulting in meat, including pork, coming into the UK that posed a disease threat to UK animals. In particular, the pig industry has been worried by the possibility that inadequate checks on imports could lead to African Swine Fever entering the country and causing what would be an existential threat to the industry.
While pig farmers are worried about competition from imported products and claim to have higher standards than most countries, in reality the British pig industry is neither humane nor environmentally responsible. Most pigs in the UK are raised in intensive farming systems and fed on a mixture of grains and legumes, with about 10 percent of their feed made up of imported soya, much of which has been linked to deforestation in South America. Meanwhile, our undercover investigations have found outrageous abuse and neglect of pigs and piglets on farms certified by Red Tractor and RSPCA Assured.
For the animals.