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Overview of This Week's Pig Industry News

20 February 2012, at 11:22pm

ANALYSIS – McDonald’s has announced that its US suppliers are to phase out sow stalls and adopt more welfare-friendly methods of production, writes senior editor, Jackie Linden. The forthcoming ban is much in discussion in the EU as producers still using stalls decide whether to make the necessary investment or abandon production. In Canada, discussions on the future of stalls are ongoing and bans have already been announced in medium term in Australia and New Zealand. The burning question is whether global companies like McDonald’s may start to pressure producers in Asia into a similar ban. Also in the news are reports highlighting the volatility of the Chinese pork market, trends in EU pig population and whether pig and pork imports to the US are distorting apparent improvements in efficiency.

Last week, fast food chain, McDonald’s, told its US pig meat suppliers to phase out gestation stalls and adopt more welfare–friendly methods of production.

Gestation stalls were removed from pig production systems in the UK more than a decade ago and at the end of this year, European legislation will see them phased out across the EU.

The move in Europe has caused some concern among pig producers, many of whom, despite having had a decade to prepare for the new regulations, are ill-prepared.

The move by McDonald’s in the US has produced some positive responses from the industry and animal welfare groups and activists, including the Humane Society of the US and the American Humane Association. However, the response from the US pig producers has been less enthusiastic.

A statement from the National Pork Board said that the move had been for commercial interests and that there are several systems including the use of gestation stall that have welfare–friendly aspects.

The move in the US following the developments and experiences in Europe also beg the question what will happen in other countries around the world.

Welfare issues are already high one the agenda in Australia and New Zealand. In New Zealand, sow stalls will be banned by the end of 2015 despite the NZ$20–million cost to pig farmers to change their housing and in Australia, in November 2010, Australian Pork Ltd delegates voted overwhelmingly to pursue the voluntary phase-out of gestation stalls by 2017.

There is, at present, no similar pressure to change systems in the world's largest pig producing country, China. McDonald’s has a significant presence in China and other Asian countries. Will the company insist on similar changes to production methods in these countries in the future?

The Chair of the National Farm Animal Care Council's Pig Code Development Committee says space allowance and the use of gestation stalls in Canada are among the key issues being discussed as revisions to the Pig Code of Practice are considered,

A new report from the USDA Economic Research Service has described the volatility of China’s pig meat industry. The report says that growth of the country's domestic pig meat industry is being held back by rising costs, disease outbreaks, animal waste disposal challenges and food safety concerns as well as more competitively priced imports.

The latest EU pig census figures from December 2011 highlight some modest gains in pig populations and some dramatic reductions. Almost half of EU countries have reported their pig counts, which reveal modest increases from the previous year in Germany, Denmark and Italy but double-digit percentage falls in Poland, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovenia and Malta.

A special report in the February USDA Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook produced by the USDA Economic Research Service maintains that the efficiency of pork production in the US over the years has been clouded by the amount of meat and livestock that have been imported. This is despite the record pork exports achieved by the US last year.

The report acknowledges that technical efficiencies and genetic improvement have helped to increase the amount of meat that is produced from each pig but it also says that the improvements are not as great as they first might appear because the US has been increasing more product and animals from countries such as Canada and Mexico.