Industrialized High Welfare
The ultimate triumph of the pursuit of ‘High Welfare British’ as a brand could be catastrophe for British pig production. This ambition is predicated upon a single economic premise and not upon the sustainability of a fundamental of British culture and identity, its indigenous agricultural history and the production of a quality product in terms of food. Food safety is not an experience of the product but of the production. The answer to the question ‘who is taking responsibility for British pig production’ is no one who is in a position to correctly influence the moral and cultural foundations that are being eroded with disturbing momentum. Snapshot statistics that are not under control, form part of a regular staple of the diet fed to producers. It is not a healthy diet because they are becoming tired and weak not as individuals but as an industry.
I will give you one example. There is a product available to pig producers that enables the postponement of sexual maturity in growing pigs. I like many, have previously referred to this as an agent of immuno-castration of the male pig. I was incorrect. Why, because the male pig does not lose its testicles or the permanent function of them, therefore it is not castrated. It is in fact a vaccination against the presence of gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH), which is a critical constituent of successful conception, and is present in both the male and female pig. It raises the possibility of two game changing benefits for pig producers both as a result of delayed sexual maturity. The absence of boar taint in male carcasses a factor that currently separates us from many of our competitors, who will end up using this product, and the answer to managing the sexual development of breeding females that, due to the genetic advances of the breeding companies, reach greater weights at a far younger age than the industry has previously experienced. This means that it is possible these females are having multiple oestrus cycles before they become pregnant at the recommended stage in their ‘natural’ development. This I believe lowers lifetime output and raises production costs.
I believe that the consensus amongst some pig vets and producers is a positive response to this product. I believe that Red Tractor stand alone amongst the QA trade in not accepting it and are playing ping pong with the retailers on this issue in terms of a decision. This is because of the word ‘castration’. I have two questions for Red Tractor. What is your definition of castration and what are you doing about the very real welfare issue of the consequences of early sexual maturity in growing pigs and the large scale lack of segregation in the latter stages of finishing? There is a fear of the misinterpretation by consumers of the risk of this chemical intervention to delay a natural function, which doesn’t actually appear to exist. The ‘QA’ inconsistency is breath taking because nowhere in the Red Tractor canon is there any preventative measure for the combined housing of mixed sex finishing pigs. The consequences of this could not be misinterpreted by anyone who understands basic biology. Elephant and room are two words that spring to mind.
I said earlier that no one is taking responsibility. The concept of industrialised food (pig) production and high animal welfare are not opposing concepts as I look ahead to the world of my grandchildren when they are raising their own families and having to feed them. ‘Industrialised High Welfare Production’ is a compatible process that we need to begin to familiarize ourselves with. Agriculture is an industry. To industrialise is to espouse the ideals, methods and aims of industrialism, this is the economic organisation of society based on mechanised industry rather than craftsmanship, agriculture and commerce. We need to challenge and broaden the meaning of industrialisation or find an alternative word in order to best describe the way in which we are going to take responsibility for repairing the agricultural foundations of food production which will include craftsmanship etc. We need an economic reorganisation as an industry, which I have previously argued for in this column in regard to British pigs. There are too many politicians in our industry and no one taking a philosophical approach. Real Welfare is political unreality unless it is harnessed to the overall well-being of the hardworking producers it purports to serve. And is a true education for consumers.
The world requires us to mass produce food from a finite resource. Pig meat is produced by converting other available foodstuffs at a ratio of a minimum of 3:1 but more likely to be on average nearer 4:1. This ratio is, ironically, exactly the same ratio as the levy contribution that is shared between producers and processors. It is not however the profit ratio shared between producers and processors. The inefficiency comes from mediocre management aspirations and the restrictions of QA. The profit inequity comes from an outdated and irrelevant economic model. Quality Assurance has given British Pork a short term political advantage over more philosophical competitors but I fear it will be the death knell of the industry unless it gets real about welfare.