10. THE PIG INDUSTRY ‘CRISIS’
Despite around £30 billion being poured into European agriculture each year, the pig farming industry has proclaimed itself to be in several crisis situations. Despite the fact that farming accounts for less than 2 per cent of the EU’s output (GDP), it attracts incredible subsidy. Without it, red meat would be so expensive that consumption would collapse; even with it, the industry is staggering. This monumental sum is topped up even further by our Government with special payments to ‘needy cases’.
In 1998, pig farmers warned of ‘desperate times’, and it was reported that pig producers were losing £6m each week largely because they ‘had to produce pork to a higher standard than their competitors overseas’ (122). Farmers and abattoir owners complained that it was due to competition in an over-supplied market. These cries of poverty tied in with the 1999 ban on keeping pigs in stalls or on tethers, and farmers blamed the ban on this ‘crisis’.
The Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) waded in and gave an additional £3 million to the pig industry to help market its products and stave off collapse. By February 1999, Farming News stated that despite this, the market for pig meat had collapsed to an all-time low. According to the MLC, losses for the nine months to January 1999 topped £150 million.
Further statements of ‘collapse’ have come more recently. In 2011 it was reported that two thirds of British pig farms could be on the brink of collapse within two years because of the price of wheat and other staple crops to feed pigs (123). In 2012, it was stated that high feed costs caused by global wheat and soya shortages had forced many farms to close. Supermarkets also apparently do not ‘pay enough’ to pig farmers. This pattern is mirrored across Europe, and countries within the EU are apparently facing the same crisis as the UK. In 2015, French farmers burned tyres, hay and manure as they blocked the highway in protest against European Union food import laws and poor deals with distributors (124). They also released live pigs in supermarkets (125). Farmers complained they pay too many charges which makes their pork more expensive than other big European Union producers, like Germany and Spain. Experts stated that the French pork industry has been struggling for years due to major structural challenges (126). In 2016, again agriculture experts warn that Britain’s pig farmers are braced for a crisis thanks in part to a Russian export ban which started early in 2015 due to several outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) in Eastern Europe (127), and made prices plummet as it had a knock on effect for British farmers, even if they were not exporting to the country (128).
EU pork exporters were apparently experiencing immense difficulty after losing export trade to Russia, which was believed to be worth around €5.5 billion annually. Since the export ban, the price of pork fell by up to 10 per cent for eight weeks, and the Russian pig export ban created a negative spiral on the pork market (129). In November 2015, the EU pig market was described as ‘critical’ by EU farming body Copa-Cogeca, and apparently in crisis yet again. EU Ministers gathered to debate the €500 million package given to ‘struggling’ farmers in September 2015, which Copa described as insignificant (129). UK farmers were set to receive just over €36 million, about £26.4 million (130).
The aid package followed a mass protest where 5,000 to 6,000 farmers from across Europe descended on Brussels in September 2015 to vent their anger at the ongoing downturn in farmgate price (131). About 70 British farmers, led by the UK farming unions, travelled to the city to play their part in a demonstration (131).
There have been many reasons given by farmers for the ‘collapse’ in pig farming. In the short term, failing global soya, maize and wheat harvests – all sources of pig feed – have driven up the costs involved with pig rearing. Also that pig farmers continue to be squeezed by supermarket profit margins.
The constant cry of farmers is, of course, that they have the ‘best welfare standards in the world’, and this is costing them dear. They’re now attempting to save their bacon by launching consumer campaigns with the message that pigs are in paradise on Britain’s factory farms, for example the Red Tractor’s ‘Love Pork’ campaign (132) which was rolled out around the UK on billboards and a national press ad. This 'Pork Not Porkies' ad campaign however was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in 2012 after complaints that the adverts were misleading and unsubstantiated (133).
The body behind the campaign, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, told the ASA that Red Tractor pork was "high welfare compared to pork from other EU exporting countries", but that EU legislation prevented it from making a direct comparison with imported pork. The problem for the ASA was that the ad implied the UK had high welfare, while it understood "some aspects of pig farming in the UK, such as farrowing crates, tail-docking, tooth clipping and slatted floor accommodation, while better than in some EU exporting countries, were still contentious issues".
Perhaps the most abhorrent reason given by farmers for these collapses is the ban of sow stalls.
The European Commission responded in 2011 by providing financial aid for pig farmers. It was reported that the EU pig sector is in crisis, with market prices 10 per cent below 2009 levels, not sufficient to cover rising feed costs, resulting in losses of €25 per pig, according to EU farming body Copa-Cogeca (134). Continual warnings from the National Pig Association (NPA) that by next year many supermarket shelves will be bare of British pork have continued to be unheeded however. Exports of pig meat from Britain also continue to rise, despite the current so-called ‘crisis’.
The NPA ran a ‘Save Our Bacon’ campaign, encouraging consumers to support the ‘Red Tractor Logo’ assurance scheme.
It is impossible to understand how animal farming has managed to secure such preferential treatment when it is so damaging – to health, the environment and, of course, the animals themselves. Entire industries have been devastated in the name of axing subsidies, particularly mining, steel and ship building – but not animal farming and the intensively grown fodder.
The crisis facing animal farming is not short-term, but a sign of increasing problems. Viva!’s answer is to end intensive farming and to encourage the public to stop eating animals. Instead, we need to encourage and support horticulture – where plant crops of all kinds are grown and fed directly to people. This is much more sustainable for planet Earth – involving, for example, less use of water and land, less loss of biodiversity, less output of global warming gases and, of course, involves no animal cruelty. Humans thrive on a varied, wholefood vegan diet – suffering from less chronic diseases and thus a widespread shift to vegan diet would lift the burden from our collapsing NHS.
However, the pig farming industry aims to continue down the road of intensification; further manipulating animals to make them grow larger, with low fat, in the shortest time possible in conditions which are completely abhorrent.
Despite around £30 billion being poured into European agriculture each year, the pig farming industry has proclaimed itself to be in several crisis situations © Viva!