Pig industry still under threat, warns Norfolk MEP

Pig producers are not looking at the future with any degree of confidence, though others in the supply chain have a more optimistic view.

This is the key finding from the annual BPEX confidence survey sent out to 630 people, covering producers, processors, allied industry, vets, retail/foodservice and civil servants which is now in its sixth year.

The measure of industry confidence is based on factors including attitude towards capital investment and perceptions of relative competitiveness with EU businesses.

The results revealed producers expressing increasing uncertainty over profitability and price volatility, deterring them from making invest-ment in their business for reasons other than those driven by the need for replacement or to increase efficiency, with little investment being made to increase the size and throughput of businesses.

The competitive outlook for the next 12 months is more optimistic, with an increase in the proportion of people who felt their business would become more competitive in 2012.

Andrew Knowles, head of BPEX communications, said: 'The industry has been going through a difficult time, producers are continuing to tread water waiting for evidence from supply chain partners of stability and direction which will give them the confidence to invest for the future and grow their businesses.

'It is good to see the overall view is the competitive outlook is more optimistic which is probably tied in to the forthcoming EU partial ban on stalls which will go some way towards creating a more level playing field for the UK and its major European competitors.

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'But the industry must not be distracted by changes in EU welfare legislation and continue to address the fundamental gap that exists in terms of physical performance between UK and EU average performance.'

The survey also looked at the quality of BPEX services and whether they were what was required. In total, BPEX services were used by 75pc of respondents over the past 12 months. When looking at specific sectors, the producer category has increased its use of BPEX services, increasing from 71pc in 2011 to 76pc in 2012.

n Norfolk farmer and MEP Stuart Agnew, Ukip's spokesman on agri-culture, said that a Conservative government unilaterally imposed a ban in the 1990s on sow stalls and tethers. As a result, half the national pig industry was exported abroad. 'The reality was that the number of sows fell from 900,000 to 550,000, devastating the industry,' he said.

Until retailers, meat processors and consumers fully accepted the need for common welfare standards across Europe more of the industry will exported beyond the EU, he added.

'The Conservatives and the EU still think legislation is the answer to everything. They have not learned the lessons of their previous failures,' said Mr Agnew.