The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has completed its investigation into the state of the English pig industry, concluding that adherence to welfare standards has left producers vulnerable to competition from imported pork.
In a report published today, the Committee said that the last 10 years have seen a steady decline in the scale and productivity of the English pig industry.
A key factor to this decline has been high production costs, with UK pigs costing more to produce than their EU counterparts. Although farmers have blamed disease outbreaks and the introduction of new welfare standards of pigs, the Committee questioned whether pig production is as effective as it could be in the UK and whether carcase utilisation could be improved.
The report stated that the government has an important role to play in ensuring that there is better communication and cooperation within the pig supply chain. It suggested that round-table discussions could help the industry identify how to improve efficiency and productivity through health, welfare, research and marketing strategies.
It said that Defra must also encourage public bodies to adopt a more innovative approach in public sector procurement, liaise closely with the industry on its Health and Welfare Council and fund research into pig-specific diseases.
Although the government has responsibilities, the Committee found that the wholse supply chain must also take action. It concluded that the industry has not successfully communicated the reasons for the higher costs of English pigmeat to consumers and said that producers and welfare groups must play a role in making certain that consumers understand the difference between the standards of welfare in the UK and abroad.
In addition, it found that retailers and catering suppliers must ensure that labelling of pig meat products is clear and unambiguous.
Committee chairman the Rt Hon Michael Jack said: "The English Pig industry's adherence to high welfare standards has left it vulnerable to competition from European producers, whose production methods do not match ours.
"Retailers and processors must look again at their supply chain relationships to ensure that they deliver a fair price to the producer while responding to consumer demand. At the same time, the industry, with support from Defra, must look again at which steps it can take to reduce its costs and increase its productivity to ensure that it has a viable long-term future."