Interview: NPA chairman Longthorp on EU stall ban
NPA's Longthorp sees pig prices rising
The European pork industry is bracing itself as it prepares for the impact of EU aminal welfare regulations banning the use of stalls in pig farming. Katy Askew speaks to the National Pig Association's chairman Richard Longthorp on the implications the news has for UK pig producers.
The price of pigmeat in Europe is set to increase as production declines following yesterday's (1 January) introduction of EU animal welfare regulations limmiting the use of stalls in pig farming.
According to National Pig Association (NPA) chairman Richard Longthorp, the EU stall ban is likely to reduce the amount of pigmeat produced in Europe by as much as 4-6%.
"Currently, only around 40% of continental meat is produced in accordance with the new welfare regulations. The member states will eventually have to take action to prevent their pig farmers producing meat illegally. The choice for some is that they will get out of pigs rather than invest in upgrading their facilities. We are therefore expecting to see a reduction in pig meat production in the EU," Longthorp tells just-food.
A drop in pig production on the continent is expected to act as a boost to UK pig farmers, where a total ban on the use of stalls in pig rearing was introduced in 1999, he suggests.
While lower pig production is likely to result in higher prices, Longthop says this does not necessarily mean consumers will be hit by higher prices at the tills.
"I would like to think that the full effect won't feed through to consumers. The rest of the chain - manufacturers and retailers - can adsorb some of it."
Longthorp admits it is unlikely that UK pig producers will be able to increase production to fill the gap left by declining continental production. "It would be nice to think that we could do that. But since stalls were banned in the UK a combination of factors has meant that the UK herd has dropped by a significant extent. It has shrunk by half since the 1999 UK stall ban. The infrastructure simply isn't there to step up production so quickly."
While Longthorp says higher prices will act as a "boon" to UK pig producers, who are currently struggling with rising feed costs due to poor global grain harvets, he emphasises that UK and continental pig meat is still produced under differing animal welfare standards.
According to Longthorp, the new European legislation does not put UK producers on a level playing field with their continental counterparts.
The new regulations stop short of introducing a blanket ban on the use of stalls, similar to that already in place in the UK. "The ban on stalls in the EU is only a partial ban - they will still be allowed to use them in the first four weeks of a sow's pregnancy," Longthorp comments.
He adds that - because continental producers will be able to control their pigs more effectively in the cruciual early weeks of pregnancy - their production costs will remain lower. "Continental pig producers will still have a significant advantage over pig producers in the UK."
According to Longthorp, this raises a number of questions surrounding the already problematic issue of implementing the stall ban.
"If people want to be sure of the welfare standards of the pork they are buying, look to the Red Tractor," Longthorp suggested.
The Red Tractor logo sets criteria for producers and retailers to meet on food safety, environmental protection, animal welfare and British origin.
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