Gareth Virgo is production manager at J E Porter Ltd in Lincolnshire, where he oversees operations on a 620-sow indoor straw.
Recently, upon a rare visit to a supermarket, I perused the shelves for what seemed like an eternity, looking for British bacon.
In this particular shop, it was next to bacon from foreign shores. While ensuring I was collecting the pack with the Union Flag, I mumbled to myself something about Britain and buying British – when, unbelievably, my shy northern tones were heard by a fellow shopper. She commented that she knew she should buy British, but the price of the other bacon was more attractive.
This got me thinking about how we can convince the ‘Great British Public’ to use their GBP to buy British. People appear to like the thought of buying British, but the harsh reality is that cost is paramount. How can the pig industry better market our product to the consumer to ensure the price difference is worth the cost?
I believe that part of the solution lies in further educating the public about the standards we adhere to to ensure that pork produced in the UK is of a high welfare standard and why it is we can carry assorted assured farm symbols.
As the spotlight on our production standards and the labels on our meat shines ever brighter, all our pork is fully traceable and we have made huge gains in antibiotic usage reduction.
Will MoP (method of production) labelling help or hinder in this case? In my opinion, the vast majority of supermarket shoppers do not have the time or desire to stand reading the provenance of a product. I fear the MoP labelling that has been put forward as an answer could cause more harm than good.
Many critics say we meet the minimum requirements on welfare to gain assurance, but those ‘minimum’ requirements take a lot of effort to meet (and are higher than many of our European counterparts), and we are actually moving forward and engaging the public when it comes to animal welfare.
Such are the vast differences between our production systems in this country – both with their good and bad points – using a MoP label would further complicate matters.
I believe this would cause division in an already pressurised industry.