Ed Barker, senior policy adviser at the National Pig Association, explains how a hard Brexit would affect both UK and EU pork exports.
Many Farmers Guardian readers will have noted the possibility of importing ‘chlorinated chicken’ from the US or ‘hormone’ beef from Australia, but what about pigs and the British pork market?
The possible new market opportunities, plus the threats from lower standard imported products from outside the EU makes for interesting reading.
The backdrop for British pig production is we have a self-sufficiency ratio for British pig products of around 56 per cent.
This is a low ratio in itself, but the actual amount of British pork consumed in the UK is nearer 40 per cent because we are exporting more and more British pork abroad – a great success story, and one which is still growing.
This ratio could be higher, but we in the UK have a particular habit of only eating some cuts over others.
We love bacon or loin meat, but until such time as researchers can create a pig which has eight loins but no belly, offal or shoulders, the UK will rely upon the EU for exports of those particular cuts (as a bloc, the EU is also well-supplied with pork meat, currently running at about 112 per cent self-sufficiency).
We have a well-defined ‘carcase balance’ in pig meat around Europe which works with efficient supply chains and at a low price for the consumer.
One of the interesting dynamics in pork is how sensitive both the UK and EU are to removal of exports to one another.
It is clear why some EU countries may suffer if a ‘hard Brexit’ is pursued by either the UK or EU.
Denmark, for example, exports 82 per cent of its bacon cuts to the UK and is acutely aware of the potential loss of UK market access. However, this is a problem for more than just those exporting countries.
The body which represents meat traders in Europe, UECBV, has estimated if the UK market was lost for pork exports, the whole of the EU will suffer to the tune €2.3 billion, given the excess pork which would be circulating on the European market.
In turn, the UK would lose its carcase balance, and will have to compete with the likes of the USA and Canada on the global market.
But does a hard Brexit favour the UK? Many people have suggested as much, and have rightly identified the price of pork would go up sharply, and supress consumer demand.
The problem with this is Governments have a knack of panicking at the first sight of increased food prices, which could force them to pursue a cheap food agenda, meaning we could have not only EU pork being imported, but also non-EU pork.
At the moment, the UK imports tiny amounts of non-EU pork, but new free trade agreements, coupled with added difficulties in trading with the EU, could make increased non-EU imports an unwelcome possibility.
The United States, Canada and Brazil all permit the use of sow stalls, which were banned in the UK in 1999, and the beta-agonist ractopamine, used as a feed additive, again banned in the EU.
Such production systems represent a much lower cost of production model, and could seriously affect the UK market if permitted as imports.
The UK Government would rightly not allow us to produce to those standards here, which begs the question why we would allow it on imports.
In so doing, that self-sufficiency ratio could go further down still.