Simon Grey, General Manager Europe

Pig price across Europe is falling back from the highs we sew in the middle of the year. However, across Europe pig price remains high enough for pig production to be profitable and therefore sustainable!!

Profitability is the number one requirement for sustainability. Sustainability is a word that is impossible to avoid these days. So to be sustainable we need to make a profit. This means selling more pork and pork products…

In Europe farmers are facing many challenges which seems to make pig farming less sustainable. New animal welfare rules, solid floors and bedding, no castration, long tails, removal of zinc, there are many new bits of legislation. One that I believe is of particular concern is around castration. Having had a piece of boar tainted pork recently this is high on my mind.

Wikipedia Definition of Boar Taint

“Boar taint is the offensive odor or taste that can be evident during the cooking or eating of pork or pork products derived from non-castrated male pigs once they reach puberty. Boar taint is found in around 20% of entire male finishing pigs. Skatole may also be detected in gilts, but this is linked with fecal contamination of the skin. Studies show that about 75% of consumers are sensitive to boar taint”.

People eating pork and eating more pork is absolutely vital for the future of our industry. Following my recent experience I am considering not buying pork (in the UK) where 50% will be from entire boars. Or switching to a supplier that can guarantee their pork is only from gilts – these now exist in the UK…

It seems to me the easiest way to stop people buying and eating pork is to sell poor quality product. There is no doubt that boar tainted pork is about as bad as it gets in terms of taste! Can you imagine any other industry knowingly risking selling to its customer a product with a risk of being (very) poor quality? Can you imagine a restaurant knowingly serving a % of its dishes tasting terrible?

I am not talking about mistakes here, mistakes will always happen. I am taking about doing this knowingly!!!

I understand well that entire males growing faster, being leaner and needing less feed. This is of course correct. But if the end product means risk of producing a terrible product is it worth the risk? We as an industry need to make profit – not just be the lowest cost producer.

The UK was one of the first countries in the world to ban surgical castration of pigs. Interestingly this ban was instigated by the RSPCA. (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). More interesting is that the RSPCA has many shelters for cats and dogs for rehoming. If a dog or a cat is rehomed it has to be castrated!! Of-course surgically and by a vet.

I can understand a move towards no surgical castration without some sort of pain relief. But to ban it all together for a farmed species, where the result is risk of boar tainted pork but then insisting that dogs and cats are castrated does not make a lot of sense?

Incidentally UK also does not allow immune-castration. There is a belief the British public will not accept castration or immuno-castration.

Another interesting fact is that the UK is only about 50% self-sufficient in pork production. About 50% of all pork products eaten in the UK are imported and most from Europe! For sure some of this imported pork will be from castrated or immuno- castrated boars. The reality is the British public are already accepting this!!

The UK has been at the forefront of (perceived) high animal welfare and producing a pork product “the consumer wants to buy”. The UK just over 20 years ago had about 800,000 sows. Today the sow herd is about 350,000 sows! A greater than 50% reduction in sow herd size – and that producing what the customer wants!!

The EU today is putting in place a lot of what the UK introduced 20 years ago. Today the EU has just over 10 million sows. Can we assume it will have less than 5 million in 20 years time? History tends to repeat!!

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This post was written by Genesus