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The pig industry and UK agriculture

The pig industry is a major sector in UK agriculture and unlike many other sectors it is not supported by state or European subsidy. Below we highlight recent trends and topics of concern within the industry.

carcasses at the abbatoirToday's pig industry has its origins in 6000 years of farming.Throughout this period the pig has been a valuable farm animal that has consumed waste products, fertilised the ground and provided an efficient source of meat production.

In the countryside it was always traditional for householders to keep pigs in their back gardens but this practice was outlawed and pigs are now only kept in a farmed environment.

pig slaughterings In the last few years cheap imports of pig meat from abroad (the £ sterling has been strong against other European currencies) have undermined the British pig industry. In addition, the costs of production in the UK have risen markedly as UK farmers have had to comply with welfare legislation that is not in force elsewhere.These factors have contributed to a significant contraction of the national pig industry.

domestic pig productionThere are hundreds of meat products made from the pig which range from sausages to cured meats and fresh pork products. In the year 2000 the UK was 93% self sufficient in the fresh pork market whilst in the bacon and ham market it was less than 50% self sufficient. If anything approaching self sufficiency is to be achieved, UK producers will need to find ways of overcoming the competitive disadvantages of production in the UK.

farm sign Passions are running high. First swine fever and then foot and mouth. These diseases are highly contagious causing severe distress to the animal and considerable loss to the producer. The diseases entered the UK in 2000 and 2001 and were almost certainly caused by contaminated inputs. In both cases all the farmer's stock will be destroyed.

piglets having a feed This fine joint of pork contains a stamp on the right which demonstrates that the meat has independently inspected and certified by MLC (Meat and Livestock Commission) and the MHS (Meat Hygiene Service).

smelly pig Pigs are much cleaner than many people imagine and perform a valuable public service by consuming the by-products of the food processing industry; brewer's waste, dairy products and cereals to name but a few. Pigs are also very efficient producers of lean meat and little of the animal is wasted at slaughter. Despite this, pigs still have a poor image in the public domain.

no antibiotics No routine use of antibiotics is allowed in the United Kingdom although the practice of including antibiotics continues in many other countries. In the UK producers are concerned to respond to consumer requirements.

Statistics for Pigs and Pigmeat

Pigs and Pigmeat 
Total marketing pigs
12381 10567 10282 9051 8679 8777 8731 9075 8994 8557 n/a
Pigs value of production
(£ millions)
822 738 689 686 681 677 685 736 865 976 984
Pork - home fed as % new supply
92 73 74 71 73 70 68 69
Bacon & Ham - home fed as % new supply
45 43 43 43 42 44 45 42
Pig meat - home fed as % new supply
49 48 48 49 52 50 53

June Census statistics for Pigs and Pigmeat

Pigs and Pigmeat
Sows kept for pig breeding
279,782 281,237 262,516 283,458 366,302 291,441 536,009 727,612 685,721 646,887 502,697
Other pigs
1,741,640 1,739,082 1,551,861 1,820,841 2,789,117 1,804,846 3,603,377 5,439,294 5,792,473 5,661,437 4,939,771
Total pigs
2,021,422 2,020,319 1,814,377 2,104,299 3,155,419 2,096,287 4,139,386 6,166,926 6,476,211 6,308,324 5,442,468