China will lift its suspension on pork imports from UK plants affected by COVID-19 when there is evidence the disease is under control in the UK, according to a Chinese official quoted in the Financial Times.
The FT has highlighted pig sector’s request to Defra for a COVID support package, including a submission from processors reflecting the significant cost of lost exports to China from plants affected by COVID-19 outbreaks.
The industry estimates 1 million pig carcasses have been affected by the suspension of some exports to the world’s largest pork market.
“Margins in the meat industry are very tight at the best of times,”Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association told the FT. “So finding markets for these things like pigs’ heads is absolutely critical.”
Mr Allen told Pg World the loss of China sales is costing more than £15/pig, based on the difference between what the Chinese market pays and alternative outlets for the pork. With the two main affected plants, Cranswick’s Watton and Pilgrim’s Ashton sites, typically killing around 40,000 pigs between them a week, it is costing the industry around £600,000 per week over a long period, he said.
The FT article also quotes an official at China’s General Customs administration, who said China began suspending UK frozen meat imports last June after outbreaks in pork factories.
“There is evidence that the virus could stay alive in low-temperature environments. We would rather overreact, than not reacting, when it comes to virus prevention,” the official said. “We will lift the import curb when there is sufficient evidence that the pandemic is under full control in the UK. There is no sign that has happened.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “Although there are a small number of businesses that cannot currently export pork products to China, this issue is not unique to the UK. We recognise the challenges the sector is facing and are closely monitoring the situation.
“Defra will continue to support the affected establishments, working closely with UK industry and the British embassy in Beijing, with the aim of securing the resumption of exports.”
Separately, the NPA is seeking £3.2m to help them producers with the impact of overweight pigs caused by the backlog of pigs on farms due to a combination of factors, including COVID disruption in pork plants and Brexit delays at ports. This has cost them extra money in feed and penalties from processors for animals slaughtered at high weights.
The FT quotes NPA chief executive Zoe Davies, who said the pressures on the industry had led some farmers to quit – about 15 to 20 farmers with about 10,000 sows in total had recently left the sector.
About three-quarters of pig farmers are operating at a loss, she added. While ministers have not so far committed to financial support, they are taking a ‘very keen interest’ in the problem, she said.
Scotland and Northern Ireland both announced funding in March for pig farmers affected by coronavirus outbreaks in processing plants.