Free the Pig?
In my recent column in the Weekly Tribune I have questioned the economic model upon which our industry is predicated because it is wrong and has eroded the economic independence of pig producers. The economy of individual farms whether single or multiple enterprise, and irrespective of the nature of the enterprise, looks precarious. The consumer needs to know that it cannot be the profits of food production that sustain food production for the next generation. The equity inherent in land is supporting increasing consumption of expensive technologies by the farmer, that is out of balance with production. Retailers will one day either, have to come clean on the true value of food or they will have to become farmers themselves or they potentially face the justice of a starving mob.
If you think that I am being alarmist and if you genuinely support the UK pig industry take a few minutes of your time when you are next using the internet to look up the Jeremy Coller Foundation (JCF). In a document entitled ‘Global Sustainability…Human Consequences of Animal Factory Farming’ (Spring 2015). On page 3, under the headline ‘Four inconvenient truths of animal factory farming’ there are four short strap lines. ‘Spreads drug resistance’, ‘Contributes to global warming and pollution’, Exacerbates undernourishment and world hunger’ and ‘Consumes our planet’s scarce resources’. The first of these strap lines is pertinent to our industry right now. The third line makes it clear that it takes an average of 6kgs of plant protein to make 1kg of animal protein and the fourth line elucidates the high water consumption of livestock farming. The term ‘factory farming’ is brought to the fore in the second strapline where the livestock sector produces 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In a second document entitled ‘Investing Risks in Factory Farming’ (Autumn 2015) the JCF asks the question of investors, business leaders and individuals, ‘If the wealthy and powerful are not at the cutting edge, then who will be?’ The JCF principles are encapsulated in the FAIRR Initiative (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Returns). Amongst the powerful could be considered UK pig producers. The one thing to the industry’s advantage is that I do not think the JCF would consider the UK pig industry a factory farming industry per se. The most important aspect of raising this subject is that the Jeremy Coller Foundation is an active and influential supporter of animal welfare practise in production. The political position of a financially secure and influential foundation like this is an encouragement to the UK pig industry to get its act together and benefit from what is in essence, an endorsement of progress so far…but not far enough. This foundation is here to stay and determined to influence change for the good of the planet.
The pig industry in the UK must seriously consider setting the pig free. To begin this the industry must remove the constraints of the AHDB (Beef, Lamb & Pork) conglomeration. Pork is a white meat! Period. Pig production is an efficient and sustainable practise for providing food diversity to a hungry world. Pig farming methods can enable the ethical production of high (eating) quality and consistent product. The infrastructure required, whether intensive or not, can integrate successfully into agricultural crop rotation and reusable, sustainability and alternative energy programmes. It was once said that the only part of the pig that could not be used was the squeal or grunt. The pig is a great convertor of waste food and should be free to return to this function. This aspect alone has great portent for the world of the future. Retailers, on the whole, have developed a divide and rule approach to maintaining the steady reduction of the price of food to consumers. One or two have, notably, begun moving in the direction the JCF are actively promoting. It is time for the UK pig industry to consider whether it should take advantage of the common disassociated assumption that carrots come from a carrot farm, milk comes from a cow farm, eggs from a chicken farm, etc.
If the UK industry is to have a levy funded representative board, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t, this body must be totally independent from boards representing competitor production. If the UK pig industry got its act together and changed the economic model and concentrated on product (eating) quality with a far greater concentration on developing export markets as a result, it could help beef and lamb producers much more in the long run by opening up potential markets than by wasting valuable resource competing with them on the doorstep. If the UK industry got its act together I believe it would have the support of the influencers on the global stage. That is why I believe the UK pig producer is a powerful agent of change…but first we have to free the pig.