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Weekly Overview: Pushing up Pig Prices in Challenging Times

3 September 2012, at 11:46pm

ANALYSIS - A survey has revealed that UK consumers say they are prepared to pay more for 'welfare-friendly' pig meat - but would they do so in practice? Rising feed prices are being blamed for cuts in pig numbers in the UK and the US, where serious economic losses are being predicted. In the EU, pig prices are reported to be moving upwards in most countries. A new model developed in Spain has put the risk of the transmission of the African Swine Fever virus to EU countries generally by various means of transport at 'low'.

Consumer surveys are notoriously unreliable predictors of consumer behaviour but the latest, from the UK, indicates that consumers are willing to pay more for animal products from more welfare-friendly systems.

Research at the University of Reading suggests that people are willing to pay more for even a slight improvement in the well-being of the animals in their meals, appearing to favour cows and chickens over pigs.

Professor Richard Bennett, an agricultural economist who advises the UK government on animal welfare issues, is leading University's research assessing the extent to which people want to improve the welfare of farm animals.

"Our research shows that people are overwhelmingly concerned about the welfare of animals bred for meat, and would be willing to pay more each year for even a one-point increase on the happiness scale of the animals they eat," Professor Bennett said.

The study suggests that for just a one-point increase on the animal welfare 100-point scale, consumers are willing to pay 34.57 a year to improve the welfare of pigs.

The risk of disease among farm animals and farm biosecurity are public issues, which makes the economic impacts of disease control and ensuring good biosecurity public concerns.

The August issue of EuroChoices, the Journal of the Agricultural Economics Society and European Association of Agricultural Economists, examines the role of economics in animal health decision making and how an economic approach can add value to animal health policies.

More evidence of the impacts of high feed prices on pig numbers has emerged in the last week. UK production is forecast to be down 10 per cent by the end of the year unless pig prices improve. In the US, sow slaughterings are up while pig production is down. Purdue Extension agricultural economist, Chris Hurt, is forecasting the nation's pork industry will continue to experience some of its worst economic losses in recent history. On more positive note, pig prices are improving in almost all EU countries, the result of scare supply and a brisk demand.

Finally, turning to news of African Swine Fever (ASF), scientists in Spain have developed a model to assess the risks to the European Union's pig industry of the transmission of the ASF virus from the Russian Federation to EU countries. They found that overall, the risk of the introduction of the virus into EU countries is low and mainly associated with returning trucks but the risks are higher for Poland and Lithuania. They highlighted the importance of good biosecurity, especially regarding the disinfection of trucks.

ASF has also been in the news in Russia. The veterinary service in the Kurgan region has allocated an additional 34 million rubles for measures to prevent the introduction and spread of ASF and leukaemia in cattle. The veterinary service for the regions of Bryansk and Smolensk have addressed measures to keep ASF out of the largest pig farm in Bryansk.