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Pig farming

Currently, producers face a loss of circa £30 per pig sold. Their estimated cumulative losses since autumn 2020 is £600 million, according to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

So, the output from pig farming is worth less than the alternative uses of the inputs. This makes society as a whole – not just the pig farmers – poorer.

Unsurprisingly, many pig farmers are voting with their wellies, and exiting the industry. The proof is in the contraction of the national herd.

Good, the universe is working as it should.

Imported pork is cheaper, meaning it pushes down the price of home-reared meat.

Yes, that’s good too. Consumers are better off because cheaper bacon – mmmmm, bacon. And the imports do not just reduce the price of imported bacon, they also reduce the prices of domestically produced, that’s the way that imports work. This is why tariffs – which deliberately and with malice aforethought raise prices – are so heinous. They raise the price of domestic production by that very absence of price competition from imports.

You might feel that imported pork — as much as 25% cheaper than native product — is a good thing in a cost-of-living crisis.

Yes, this is entirely so.

Then there’s lots of stuff about how pig farming needs to be organic and wild and free and that’s because consumers demand it. OK, bully for consumers. But it ends with this:

This sustainable, free-range and ethical system needs to be safeguarded by the introduction of a ban on the import of all products to welfare standards lower than the UK. Anything less will be putting lipstick on a pig.

No, because if consumers demand it then we don’t need a legal restriction and if we do need a legal restriction then consumers aren’t demanding it.

The actual and real demand being made here is that 67 million of us must pay more for our bacon – mmmmm, bacon – because Johnno here wants to make more money.

John Lewis-Stempel is a farmer and historian.

Bugger off, Matey.

19 thoughts on “Pig farming”

  1. Perhaps we should ask why the Danish pork is cheaper than the British pork. Denmark is not really a low cost country.

  2. Pig farming makes the lemming population cycle look a model of stability. If double barrelled doesn’t know this he should turn it on himself.

  3. Danish pigs are kept in conditions we wouldn’t tolerate in the UK, and Danish bacon is ~50% water. But, as Tom points out, as long as it’s clearly labelled as such, customers should be free to make their own choices. I get my bacon from the local butcher who cures his own pork from local farms. It tastes better, but costs more – my choice.

  4. Where I used to live the local abattoir had to close because it was uneconomic to upgrade to the new EU rules regarding animal welfare. (The halal slaughterhouses were exempt.)
    As a result livestock has to be trucked an additional 60 miles for slaughter. I don’t see this is an improvement in animal welfare. In addition, the price of getting your pig turned into bacon has gone into the stratosphere.

  5. ‘… about how pig farming needs to be organic and wild and free and that’s because consumers demand it. ‘

    Do we? I must have missed that.

    Organic & preoccupation with animal welfare is a scam to snare a minority of mindless blobs with more money than sense.

  6. Interesting how everyone has their own personal set of ethics but shouty persons think they have the RIGHT to demand that everyone else be forced to comply with their personal set of ethics. I fancy vegans and “poverty campaigners” will disagree with Mr Lewis-Stempel’s definition of “ethical”.
    [That is not to say I disagree with Mr Lewis-Stempel’s view as to whether his treatment of pigs is ethical – I haven’t studied them in detail – just with his right to force *other people* to pay for his choices. Like Chris Miller I buy my meat (and free-range eggs) from my ethical local butcher as I can afford to indulge my ethical prejudices (and so can he since he provides meat that tastes better and his customers are prepared to pay a little extra for the better taste).]

  7. Perhaps the answer is to encourage greater product differentiation. The pigs of yesteryear had much more fat cover and hence more intra-muscular fat which made the meat more flavoursome and tender. Nowadays the super-lean Long White and Landrace beasts aren’t a patch on fatter pigs.

    The Empress of Blandings was a Bershire but there are other traditional breeds including the famous “Tanworth Two” which make excellent eating. Animal welfare alone will appeal only to a segment of the market.

  8. Is this Johnno trying to force his preferences on the rest of us? Or is it Johnno asking that all of us pay for what the government, nominally on behalf of all of us, has forced on him?

    Or put another way, now that the consumers’ collective expressed preferences are baked into the regulation of local farming, is it reasonable for the farmers to carry the burden of the difference between expressed and observed preferences?

    The right answer is, of course, not to regulate this way, but there is depressingly little interest in that argument.

  9. Bugger off, Matey.

    You’re always gonna have problems lifting a body in one piece. Apparently the best thing to do is cut up a corpse into six pieces and pile it all together. And when you got your six pieces, you gotta get rid of them, because it’s no good leaving it in the deep freeze for your mum to discover, now is it? Then I hear the best thing to do is feed them to pigs. You got to starve the pigs for a few days, then the sight of a chopped-up body will look like curry to a pisshead. You gotta shave the heads of your victims, and pull the teeth out for the sake of the piggies’ digestion. You could do this afterwards, of course, but you don’t want to go sievin’ through pig shit, now do you? They will go through bone like butter. You need at least sixteen pigs to finish the job in one sitting, so be wary of any man who keeps a pig farm. They will go through a body that weighs 200 pounds in about eight minutes. That means that a single pig can consume two pounds of uncooked flesh every minute. Hence the expression, “as greedy as a pig”.

  10. The problem with piggy body disposal, as our Canadian specialist in the subject Robert Pickton found out is that despite the hungriness of the porksters some of the bones remain for the forensic teams to pick up when your luck finally runs out.

    So unless you are a purely artisanal player in the long pig to pork business, you’re likely to end up in the chokey for a long time.

  11. Nerd, your point is very apt. Regulation over the last decade or two is almost entirely the expressed preferences of very small groups who shout very loudly about something or the preferences of those who can afford well-paid lobbyists. That the arrival of Avian flu has forced free range farmers to put their flocks inside suggests that the notions of what animal welfare actually constitute may be the romantic imaginings of urban Guardian readers and not biologists.

  12. Bloke in North Dorset

    Danish pigs are kept in conditions we wouldn’t tolerate in the UK, and Danish bacon is ~50% water.

    So this guy wants higher standards than the EU and then to keep out the inferior stuff.

  13. I have circular arguments with one member of my local party – the inheritors of the campaign for free trade;
    – Oh, we’ve got to ban American chicken
    – Why?
    – ‘cos it’s poisonous crap
    – If it’s poisonous, it will be banned because it’s poisonous, along with everybody else’s poisonous chicken. not because it’s American
    – Well, ok, it’s not poisonous, but their standards are worse
    – So, if customers want to buy “good standard” chicken, they will do
    – But the crap chicken will be cheaper
    – So? If customers want to buy “good standard” chicken, they will do
    – But they shouldn’t be eating cheap chicken!
    – etc etc etc.

    I don’t remember any arguments demanding we ban Polish milk ‘cos it was cheaper than home-grown milk. In fact, it was held up as a supreme benefit of being inside the EU’s protectionist walls.

  14. The old “my stuff is sustainable but it needs a ban on the other stuff” argument. So it isn’t actually sustainable then.

  15. It seems very weird to me that British politicians force British pork producers to obey laws to protect pigs and let foreign pork in without having to obey the same laws.
    Either a) scrap the laws and let British pork producers compete on equal terms
    b) insist all pork sold in the UK meets British standards and protect the pigs and let British pork producers compete on equal terms
    We have a weird compromise at the moment – when we were in the EU we couldn’t help this (b was not possible) but now we can.

  16. @ David
    If you read down to the very end of the rticle Mr Lewis-Stempel is advocating that only free-range pigs should be fed to British consumers

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