Pig industry braces itself for Oliver effect

As Jamie Oliver prepares to save Britain's bacon, amid a rising tide of media pig obsession, the industry is bracing itself for a rough ride.

Oliver's 90-minute documentary, 'Jamie Saves Our Bacon', will be screened on 29 January as part of Channel 4's much-hyped Great British Food Fight season. The celebrity chef has said he hopes the programme will help promote British pork and save the British pig industry.

It is expected that the documentary will focus on the difference between European and UK welfare standards, with a particular focus on the continued use of sow stalls and castration in most European countries.

In a recent article in the Mirror, Oliver said: "I thought a battery cage for a chicken was the worst vision of immoral farming, but that's nothing compared to a sow stall. It is the most horrible condition to be in."

Although unable to comment on the programme before it is aired, John Howard, marketing director of Danish Bacon and Meat Council (DBMC) said that both castration and sow stalls are under review in Denmark. "Sow stalls are on their way out - they are yesterday's production system. We concede that there is some production in Denmark that still uses them, but 75-80% of Danish sows are now kept in groups," he said.

"Castration is more tricky, because it is demanded by many of the markets that Denmark supplies. We are looking to introduce pain reduction measures and are committed to phasing it out in the long run, but must find a solution that is acceptable to all of our markets."

Despite these assurances, the industry is bracing itself for a considerable consumer backlash. The chef's chicken campaign triggered an unprecedented stampede for free-range chicken last year and it is expected that the pork campaign will have a similar effect, with some questioning whether supermarkets will be able to keep up with demand for British pork.

The media hype surrounding the programme launch will only serve to intensify consumer hysteria. Howard has already had to refute claims by the Daily Mail that Danish pigs are "reared in intensive units, often made up of multi-storey sheds known as 'pig flats', where they are deprived of light".

"I have no idea where the concept of 'pig flats' came from. Multi-storey sheds simply do not exist in Denmark," he said. "The claim that pigs are deprived of light is also completely false."

Oliver's campaign is the culmination of months of focus on the pig industry, with reports from Compassion in World Farming, the RSPCA and the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee all focusing on pig issues.

Further scrutiny is expected in February, when eco-activist Tracy Worcester's four-year investigation into intensive pig farming - 'Pig Business' - is shown on More 4. The former actress and current Marchioness of Worcester will argue that intensive production systems harm human and environmental health.