The diversity of the UK pig sector is one of its greatest strengths and should be openly championed by the industry, according to the National Pig Association’s (NPA) Producer Group.
At its latest meeting in London, in September, the group issued a call for industry unity, following a discussion on the relationship between indoor and outdoor units. The subject made it onto the agenda in the wake of recent public comments from some producers that, intentionally or otherwise, appeared to favour one
system over the other.
The backdrop was a series of media stories, largely driven by campaign groups, that sought to link large ‘intensive’ pig units with a range of negative outcomes, including poor animal welfare, excessive antibiotic use and environmental pollution.
Opening the discussion, NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said it was vital that all producers, while understandably wishing to promote the benefits of their own systems, refrained from doing so in ways that undermined others. She stressed that the association represented ‘all types of pig farming and wants every member to feel supported equally’.
The variety of UK pig production – incorporating various outdoor systems, plus indoor straw and slatted, all of varying sizes – is unique within the EU and globally, giving the industry clout in the marketplace.
At home, this diversity, often marketed under different labels, provides consumers with choice and enables the pig industry to meet a wide range of price points, group members pointed out. Furthermore, the UK’s key export destinations buy into the ‘story’ behind UK pork, including its production systems and widely recognised high standards.
A diverse sector
A recent report by the Pig Health and Welfare Council showed:
* Around 40% of England’s commercial pig breeding herd is kept outdoors
* Of the remaining 60%, most indoor sows are kept in straw-based systems until farrowing
* 20% of weaners, 5% of growers and 2% of finishers are kept outdoors
* 40% of weaners, 60% of growers and 45% of finishers are kept on straw indoors, with the rest kept on indoor slatted floors.
NPA chairman Richard Lister said: “However you produce your pigs, we are one industry, fighting the same battles, and we all benefit from being able to supply top quality pork from a range of systems.”
NPA vice-chairman Richard Longthorp said the group needed to demonstrate that promoting diversity and point of difference was the best way ahead.
He said: “Promoting the benefits of one’s own system should not be in the context of ‘better than’, rather ‘different from’. Let consumers make up their own minds. This diversity is a unique attribute of the UK pig industry.
“And as we move towards Brexit, diversity should be seen as a strength. Some may be tempted to think that during this time of comfortable prices the strength that unity brings is unnecessary. But it most certainly will be not merely necessary, but vital when the industry hits its next crisis.”
Simon Guise, representing producers in the east, pointed out that choice of system is often driven by geography and the availability of land or buildings, as well as marketing considerations.
Colin Stone, who, also representing the east, produces outdoor and indoor pigs, said the outdoor premium benefited the entire sector. “It doesn’t matter how you produce it, we need to be proud of what we are doing and just get on with it,” he said.
Devon producer Andrew Freemantle pointed out that only certain cuts from outdoor pigs are marketed as such, with the rest sold with indoor-produced meat. “So we are all in it together for most of the pig,” he said.