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The Growth in Pig Meat Imports into the United Kingdom 1998-2003

by 5m Editor
21 July 2003, at 12:00am

By BPEX - An analysis of UK trade data shows that in the last five years there has been a dramatic increase in imports of pork, bacon and other processed pig meat products. Between 1998 and 2002, total pig meat imports increased by 273,000 tonnes (product weight) or 34%. In the first four months of 2003, there has been a further rise in overall pigmeat imports of 9% compared with a year earlier. However, fresh and frozen pork imports have increased by 29% over the same period.

The Growth in Pig Meat Imports into the United Kingdom 1998-2003 - By BPEX - An analysis of UK trade data shows that in the last five years there has been a dramatic increase in imports of pork, bacon and other processed pig meat products. Between 1998 and 2002, total pig meat imports increased by 273,000 tonnes (product weight) or 34%. In the first four months of 2003, there has been a further rise in overall pigmeat imports of 9% compared with a year earlier. However, fresh and frozen pork imports have increased by 29% over the same period. British Pig Executive

The growth in imports has, in part, been a response to the fall in production in the UK. However between 1998 and 2002, exports of pig meat from the UK fell by 150,000 tonnes which helped to offset more than half of the decline in UK availability.

This paper examines the increase in pig meat imports over the last five years and looks in detail at the composition and origin of pig meat imports in 2003. It is clear that the availability of so-called “UK specification” pig meat in supplying countries is inadequate to meet the total volume currently being imported into the United Kingdom.

Pig meat imports into the United Kingdom

An analysis of UK (Intrastat) Danish and Netherlands trade data show that imports of pig meat into the UK have increased significantly over the last five years. In 1998, a total of 516,000 tonnes (product weight) was imported. By 2002, this had increased by 34% to 689,000 tonnes.

Figure 1 shows that the area of largest growth has been in fresh and frozen pork, which overtook bacon imports in 2002. Fresh and frozen pork imports increased by 77% between 1998 and 2002 rising from 170,000 tonnes to 301,000 tonnes. Imports increased by a further 29% in the first 4 months of this year. If this trend continues, pork imports could reach 380,000 tonnes by the end of this year.

Data for the first 4 months of 2003 indicate that overall pigmeat imports have risen by a further 9 per cent compared with a year earlier. If these trends continue through the remainder of the year, pig meat imports in 2003 are likely to reach 751,000 tonnes, 45 per cent higher than in 1998.

Figure 1 UK imports of pig meat by type of product

UK imports by country

The main suppliers of pig meat into the UK are Denmark and the Netherlands followed by France, Ireland and Germany. In recent years, the Netherlands has taken the greatest share of bacon imports while Denmark dominates fresh and frozen pork imports.

Figure 2 UK pig meat imports by country

Bacon imports are dominated by The Netherlands and Denmark.. In 1998 these two countries supplied the same volume and collectively accounted for 92% of all imports. By 2002, imports from The Netherlands had increased by 16% despite a sharp fall in Dutch pig production. Imports from France also increased rising from 4,500 tonnes in 1998 to 21,000 tonnes in 2002. Imports of bacon from Denmark remained at 115,000 tonnes.

Fresh and frozen pork imports are dominated by Denmark. Imports have increased from 62,000 in 1998 to 119,000 tonnes in 2002. There was also an increase in imports from the Irish Republic (25k tonnes to 49k tonnes), France (28k tonnes to 34k tonnes) Germany (8k tonnes to 27k tonnes), Belgium (7k tonnes to 24k tonnes) and Spain (1k tonnes to 7k tonnes).

Sausage imports (such as salami) increased, mostly from France and Germany. Other processed product imports in 2002 were 9,000 tonnes lower than in 1998.

Detailed Analysis of imports in 2003

As explained above the majority of imports are fresh or frozen pork and bacon. The type of product within these overall categories has been analysed for the most recently available data (January to April 2003).

Pork imports in January-April 2003 totalled 106,000 tonnes, an increase of 29% compared with last year. The main cuts of pork imported were fresh bone-in legs (mostly for ham manufacturing), boneless loins (for bacon curing and fresh retail sale), frozen boneless pork (mainly for manufacturing) and fresh half carcasses.

The main suppliers were Denmark, The Irish Republic, Netherlands, France and Germany.

There were also 103,000 live pigs imported from the Irish Republic into Northern Ireland during this period.

Bacon imports totalled 91,000 tonnes in the first four months of this year, an increase of 2% compared with the same period of 2002. The vast majority of bacon imports are in the form of backs for slicing into rashers. There is some import of gammons.

The main suppliers were The Netherlands and Denmark that accounted for 87% of total bacon imports. The other suppliers were France (6%) and the Irish Republic (2%).

The number of pigs required to supply imports

An in-depth analysis of the import data has been undertaken in order to estimate the number of pigs required to supply the British market. This analysis shows that there is a disproportionate volume of loin cuts imported into the UK. Therefore a considerably higher number of pigs is required to satisfy import demand than is at first indicated by the tonnage of imports.

The import data has been analysed on a cut by cut basis. Where specific cut data is not available, estimates of the make up of cuts in the imported volume have been used. For most countries trade is dominated by the import of loins with other cut such as legs being a lower volume. The exception is the Irish Republic where the volume of legs imported is the highest. Also, there is considerable import of live pigs from the Irish Republic into the UK (Northern Ireland).

Trade data for January to April 2003 has been extrapolated up to a full year equivalent. This has been compared with the latest EU Commission forecasts for slaughtering in 2003. In the case of Denmark and the Netherlands, these forecasts have been adjusted for anticipated live pig exports that will not be available for slaughter within these countries.

The results of the analysis are shown in the following table:

Table 1. Estimated number of pigs required to supply UK pigmeat imports in 2003.

Production of pigs to “UK specifications”

A number of countries have special contracts to encourage production of pigs to a socalled “UK Specification” or “UK Contract”. These contracts vary depending on country and or company concerned. Most are based on UK minimum legal requirements (especially a ban on the use of dry sow stalls and tethers). Very few are based on UK Quality Assurance Standards that apply to more than 90% of the pigs produced in the United Kingdom.

Data on the extent of production under “UK Contracts” is not widely available. Therefore, industry contacts in various countries have been used to get an indication of availability.

The Netherlands (minimum 73% required) Industry sources suggest that only about 1.5 million pigs are produced under “UK Contracts”. This is the equivalent of about 8% of projected slaughtering.

The Irish Republic (minimum 52% required) No information is available on UK Contracts but sources indicate that about 18% of sows are group housed (42% are tethered and 40% in stalls). It is not clear if this production would meet other aspects of a UK Contract specification.

Denmark (minimum 35% required) They are more developed in the use of UK Contracts that seek to go someway beyond UK minimum legal requirements. However, even here, production under the UK contract is estimated to be only 3.5 Million pigs a year.
(Source: National Committee for Pig Production Annual report 2002, October 2002).

This represents less than half the required amount to supply estimated UK import requirements in 2003.

France (minimum 9% required) Data from the Institute Technique du Porc indicates that the about 19% of sows are in group housed systems of production. However, it is not known if these would conform to other aspects of a ‘UK contract’ specification.

Belgium (minimum 11% required) Trade sources suggest that the percentage of pigs that could conform to a UK contract is very low and likely to be much less than in the 8% available in the Netherlands.

Conclusion

  • A detailed examination of UK trade data clearly shows that imports from other EU countries have increased significantly in the last five years and particularly in 2003. These imports are dominated by pork loin cuts and to a lesser extent legs, used for further processing into cooked hams and gammons. As a consequence of this, the number of pigs required to produce the required volume of UK imports is far higher than the tonnage of imports suggests.
  • Among the main suppliers, a minimum of between 35% and 73% of pigs slaughtered are required to cover the volume to the United Kingdom. Among the other suppliers the figure is around 10%. In practise a higher percentage than this would be required as not all pigs produced under a UK Contract would meet other quality criteria such as weight range and fatness.
  • The UK has universally applied minimum production standards that are higher than in most other EU countries. In addition, over 90% of UK pigmeat is produced under internationally recognised Quality Assurance Schemes that operate above the legal minimum standards.
  • It is clear from this analysis that while some countries have tried to encourage the production of pigs to a so-called “UK Specification”, the number of pigs currently being produced is completely inadequate to meet the volume currently imported.
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