A serious threat to our breeding pig export trade

In the latest issue of Pig World, Marcus Bates, chief executive of the British Pig Association, who also sits on the advisory body, the Farm Animal Genetic Resources Committee (FAnGRa), explains why breeding stock risk getting caught up in Government plans to stop exports of animals for fattening.

Early on in the Brexit process members of the Farm Animal Genetic Resources Committee (FAnGR) were asked to come up with Brexit opportunities.

FAnGR? That’s rare breeds isn’t it? No, it’s about the genetic resources that we use in modern farming to produce food for the nation and for export. In the pig sector, that means our world class breeding companies and it’s a sector of which we are rightly very proud.

So the Brexit opportunity put forward was this. Control of own borders could give us the opportunity to create an even more biosecure environment for breeding companies and encourage more investment in this sector.

So what is the problem? The Conservative government was elected on a manifesto promise to ‘end excessively long journeys for slaughter and fattening’.

Surely that doesn’t affect the UK pig industry? We don’t export live pigs for slaughter. Unfortunately, there is a real risk that exports of breeding stock will get caught up in this process as collateral damage.

A consultation is about to be published that will seek views on imposing maximum journey times based on a Farm Animal Welfare Council report completed in 2019 which has been published in Scotland. The report proposes a maximum journey time for pigs of 18 hours.

Setting an absolute limit on journey times regardless of the means or quality of the transport would be devastating for our breeding stock exports. The demand for UK pig breeding stock is exceptionally high at present.

Breeding gilts and boars to Spain by road or by air to China would all fall foul of this restriction. These pigs are shipped under the highest possible welfare conditions as befits their status as high value breeding stock.

The NPA and the pig breeding companies have submitted a paper to Defra detailing the damage that could be caused by a policy that fails to differentiate between animals exported for slaughter and the trade in high value breeding pigs which brings so many benefits.

International movements of breeding stock are an essential part of the breeding programmes that provide UK producers with a wide range of top quality genetics for our high welfare production systems. If breeding companies relocated their programmes how long would we have access to the special genotypes used in outdoor production.

Exports of breeding stock also help other countries to develop more sustainable agriculture systems. Genetic improvement delivers a 0.8% improvement annually on the environmental impact of pork primarily due to the reduction of nitrous oxide due to improved feed efficiency.

Or to put in another way – in 40 years, the amount of land needed to produce a cooked breakfast has been reduced by 70% through improved efficiency.

As China rebuilds its pig industry or India seeks to build theirs, the UK should be there as a partner. Not just a short-term supplier of meat, but a long-term partner in building more efficient sustainable pork production based on the top quality research and development that exports of breeding stock help to support.

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