A world shortage of pork and bacon next year is now unavoidable, says Britain’s National Pig Association.
But the association said supermarkets can protect consumers from shortages if "they pay Britain's loss-making pig farmers a fair price, to help them remain in production".
Around the world, pig farmers are selling their herds because they can no longer afford to feed their pigs. In the United States the government introduced a pork-buying programme in a bid to keep its pig farmers in business. And the Chinese government is putting pork into cold storage, as a buffer against shortages and high prices next year.
Pig industry leaders from across the European Union met in London earlier in the month to explore ways to ensure pork remains the world’s most affordable red meat. They reported that pig herds are being sold because prices are not rising fast enough in supermarkets to cover the cost of record-high pig-feed costs.
"It usually takes at least six months for higher production costs to filter through to shop prices — but pig farmers simply haven't got that long," said National Pig Association chairman Richard Longthorp, who farms outdoor pigs in Yorkshire.
"Some have got only a few weeks left before they run out of credit at the bank and have to sell up, and this is happening all over Europe."
New data shows the European Union pig herd is declining at a significant rate, and this is a trend that is being mirrored around the world. Pig farmers have been plunged into loss by high pig-feed costs, caused by the global failure of maize and soya harvests.
All main European pig-producing countries report shrinking sow herds. Falling numbers in the 12 months to June 2012 have been reported this week by Denmark (-2.3), Germany (-1.3), Ireland (-6.6), Spain (-2.8), France (-3.2), Italy (-13), Hungary (-5), the Netherlands (-3.6), Austria (-2.8), Poland (-9.6) and Sweden (-7.2).
“British supermarkets know they have to raise the price they pay Britain’s pig farmers or risk empty spaces on their shelves next year,” said NPA chairman Richard Longthorp. “But competition is so fierce in the high street at present, each is waiting for the other to move first.”
In its Save Our Bacon campaign, NPA is asking shoppers to make a point of selecting pork and bacon with the British independent Red Tractor logo, as an increase in demand for British product now may help persuade supermarkets to act before it is too late.
Sainsbury’s has increased the price it pays to a few of its pig farmer suppliers and NPA has welcomed this gesture. But it says the major supermarkets need to do much more, if they want to protect their customers from shortages and high prices next year.
British Pig Executive Mick Sloyan warned a private meeting of British and mainland Europe retailers at a Brussels summit yesterday that a fall of only 2 percent in slaughterings next year will cause prices to rise by 10 percent.
NPA believes slaughterings could fall by as much as 10 percent in the second half of next year, which indicates a doubling of the price of European pork and pork products. “If supermarkets act now, they can prevent this happening,” says NPA.