Pigs might fly

Amy Leech - 24 May 2012

Organic pigsThe news that Jim Paice, our Minister of State for Agriculture and Food, was in China last week sealing a £50 million pork export deal was enough to make anyone with knowledge of the UK pork market squeal.

Six UK plants have been approved to export quality pork cuts and 'fifth quarter' meat (offal, ears and tripe) to China. The market for exporting live breeding pigs to China is also expanding.

On the face of it, Paice's mission couldn’t be knocked. An expanding market in China for well-bred pigs and meat is an opportunity for us.

But while Paice's gaze may be fixed on the expanding horizon of wealthy Chinese middle classes, most British pig producers are focussed on more pressing matters at home.

The UK pig herd has shrunk by 40% in the past decade as farmers have lost out to cheaper EU imports that are produced to lower animal welfare standards.

The majority of imports end up on retailer’s shelves, keen as they are to satisfy our demand for cheap meat. But this trend comes at the expense of our farmers.

Now, UK pig farmers account for just 35% of domestic pig meat consumption. The rest is imported.

So why are we exporting meat?

Shouldn't we sort out our pig sty of a market before we sell its virtues abroad?

Unfortunately, last week's news leaves us with more chance of seeing a flying pig.

Amy is Research Assistant at the Soil Association.

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