Illegally produced pork may hit UK, livestock body warns

ILLEGALLY produced pork from elsewhere in Europe may hit the UK as countries fail to meet a deadline for improving standards, a report has warned.

The report, published by livestock industry body BPEX, says the majority of European Union countries are likely to miss the deadline to meet new pig welfare legislation, raising the spectre of illegally produced pork entering the UK.

Legislation imposing a partial ban on the use of sow stalls in the rest of the EU comes into force in January 2013 – more than 10 years after the UK completely banned their use to raise animal welfare standards.

Suffolk pig producer James Black, managing director of Bacton Pigs, based at near Stowmarket, believes, like BPEX, that illegally produced pork will inevitably enter the UK if strong measures are not taken.

But he is sceptical that UK politicians will take action to impose a ban, and believes the only way to stop it is to expose the actions of big retailers who sell pork produced to lower standards than in the UK.

“What we have seen all the way along is that we have got retailers here whose incentive to buy cheaper product is huge, and they will try to get away with whatever they can,” he said.

Bacton Pigs now employs about 54 staff across its pigs, portable cabins and arable operations. Over the last six months, it has cut its workforce in its pig production arm by 18 after it was hit by plummeting pork prices. It has closed two of its three indoor units, but has an indoor breeding unit, and has slightly expanded its outdoor pig operation.

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“I’m not against the EU - if the rules are consistently applied, there’s not a problem,” he said.

“If countries do not comply, then with the way in which the EU was set up, we should be in a position where we can ban imports from those countries. It would create a bit of a shortage, but it is not going to happen. Our politicians have not got the guts to do it.”

BPEX says few, if any, EU member states will be fully-compliant with the legislation and it is acknowledged that a considerable proportion of pig producers in those countries have not yet moved to a welfare-friendly pig production system.

It is calling for companies to ensure all imports come from suppliers who produce to high welfare schemes such as Red Tractor or equivalent.

BPEX chairman Stewart Houston said the import of pork to lower standards was likely to continue, which prolonged the competitive disadvantage the UK industry had operated under since 1999.