March 2015 – The importance of food, and farmers

Almost a quarter of the year gone already, which means we’re that bit nearer to the barbecue and hog-roast season. There always seems to be a bit of a dip in pig meat sales in January, after the excesses of Christmas and the New Year, so it’s good to see that feed prices are the lowest they’ve been for a number of years – although the prices being paid to pig producers are similarly low.

I sincerely hope the buyers who control our destiny don’t take it upon themselves to treat the pig producer in the same appalling manner to that which the milk producers have been treated. Having said that, I haven’t noticed a significant drop in retail prices for our products as yet!

I know I’ve mentioned before my hope that one day food might actually become important in this country – or should I say farmers who produce the food might be looked upon more favourably? Maybe it’s just a pipe dream, but as more and more land is taken out of production for housing and other developments, less and less land will be available for actual farming. I can see shortages in the foreseeable future.

Pigs, like cows, are an extremely specialist business in this country, although that’s not always the case elsewhere. It needs huge investments and dedication to produce safe, quality meat products in a humane way. The reports of maltreatment (not of pigs I should add) at one small UK abattoir recently were reminiscent of some third-world facilities where such conduct is commonplace. I suppose we sometimes get a rotten apple in the barrel, but the modern part of our industry left that behind years ago. We have every right to be proud of what our industry has achieved in all sectors.

I often wonder how much effect education in our schools has on a pupil’s perception of what actually happens in our industry. I know there might be an odd vegetarian teacher or two who, perhaps, could put a bit of a slant on things, and I often recall when I did a debate on a local radio programme with two vegan female teachers who openly declared they knew exactly what we did: we had all pigs chained to the floor, kept in total darkness and pumped full of drugs all day. This actually went out over the airwaves on Radio Humberside, but naturally they declined my invitation to visit my farm to see for themselves. Where they slipped up was in inadvertently admitting that they fed their dogs on meat.

Schools used to visit farms, but not now, it’s too dangerous. A bit of basic information and a visual peep wouldn’t go amiss. Denmark has it right as every school is visited by a pig farmer, and every school visits a pig farm, but in Denmark farming is important!

> Yorkshire farmer Sam Walton is a former pig producer and the founding editor of Pig World

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