British pork producers angry over imports

Evidence that supermarkets have increased the amount of imported pork on-shelf at the expense of British pork is sure to disappoint producers in England and will come as a bitter blow to an industry that racked up losses of £35m in the 12 weeks to 23 January 2011.

The latest statistics from Porkwatch — the in-store audit of pork and pork products — shows that the amount of British pork on-shelf in January fell to its lowest share in a year and represents only 77% of
the fixture. In March last year it stood at 83%.

The Porkwatch figures reveal that the share of British pork in Tesco in January had slumped to 59% (down from a 2010 high of 73%). Sainsbury’s stocking of British pork stood at 73% in January according to Porkwatch — down from 83% in March last year, while Asda had also reduced its share of British pork on-shelf from 72% in March last year to 63% last month.

The news will provide further ammunition for pig producers as they step up their campaign for supermarkets and processors to pay a fair price for pigs in the wake of soaring production costs.

Farmers have argued that, over the period when feed costs have soared and pushed up their production costs, the amount retailers and processors pay for pigs has actually fallen. Farmers are now losing more than £21 on every pig produced. Yet sales of fresh pork remain buoyant, the average price of the pork products basket has also increased and retailers continue to post increased profits.

“There is not so much a disconnect as a distortion,” complained one producer, who accused super-markets and processors of exploiting the situation for short-term gain and threatening the longer-term viability of the British pig industry.

Stewart Houston, chairman of the National Pig Association, agreed the latest Porkwatch figures were a disappointment. “Our campaign has focused on the need for retailers and processors to pay pig farmers a realistic price and certainly one that covers their cost of production.

“But we’ve also urged them to maintain support for Red Tractor pork and pork products and to resist any temptation to suck in cheaper imports, which are not produced to the same high welfare standards the producers in England meet.

“But these latest figures from Porkwatch confirm our own in-store observation that, in recent weeks, a number of retailers have featured deep-cut promotional activity on imported pork.

“The failure to pay producers in this country a fair price puts many of them in jeopardy. Already, 70% of producers have indicated they will quit pig production if the price they get doesn’t go up. By putting cheaper, imported pork on their shelves, supermarkets are just accelerating that process and the longer-term consequences will be disastrous — not only for farmers but also for consumers, who will ultimately be denied the choice of quality-assured Red Tractor pork,” said Houston