Guess what happened when the Swiss raised their welfare standards

I sometimes get a bit of ribbing for my globetrotting activities. The truth is that I had hardly been anywhere until I reached my 30s, at which point I went on a couple of memorable trips to Denmark and the USA.

From then onwards I have been making up for lost time. Until this year though, I had never been to a European Pig Producers (EPP) Congress, usually due to clashes with other non-business commitments.

This year, I attended the meeting in Sursee, near Lucerne, in Switzerland, where 4,500 attendees heard about Swiss agriculture and its pig sector. Farms are heavily subsidised but highly regulated and the average size is still only 20ha, with an average sow herd size of 50 sows.

Typically, a holding with pigs and dairy or beef cattle. From the roadside, all farms appeared prosperous and well cared for.

One alarming aspect was that there is a planned public referendum in the autumn on whether cattle should have horns or not. One wonders what else the Swiss Government feels should be put to the public vote.

Traditional farrowing crates are already banned there and there is a top-up payment if dry sows are allowed outdoor access. This is all, of course, wonderful if the Swiss public buy the resulting, more costly, product, but 20% of the population lives within a short car journey to an EU country such as Germany, where they can fill their car boots with better value EU produce.

Naturally enough, tail docking and antibiotics were also on the agenda at EPP, while the ‘B’ word inevitably came up several times the EU will not give the UK an easy ride in withdrawal negotiations for fear of encouraging more countries that want the same. There was definitely no animosity from either side though. It was a little disappointing that this particular year the representatives from the UK were few but very exclusive – I would encourage anyone to go as there is a lot to be had from it.

A couple of weeks before that, the Pig and Poultry Fair was an excellent event with a confident buzz about it. In contrast, word has it that the Cereals event last month was rather downbeat, with a slightly pessimistic air despite recent rises in grain prices. Having recently been involved in a business plan for an arable unit, I can see why and with current uncertainty, I would not want to be reliant on government handouts. Let’s hope the coming Agriculture Bill continues to keep  the Government’s filthy mitts off us.


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