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Pig Farming Crisis To Push Up Pork Prices

(c) Sky News 2013

Supplies of British pork on shop shelves are under threat as pig farmers struggle to stay in business.

Cripplingly high feed costs caused by global wheat and soya shortages have forced many farms to close already.

The problem, according to Essex farmer Fergus Howie, is that most producers are not being paid enough by supermarkets to make a profit.

"It's unsustainable to continue farming pigs when you are losing on every single pig that you produce so pig farmers throughout the country and in Europe and America are packing up and going out of business.

"We are certainly losing about £10 a pig."

Some producers are now being offered deals that enable them to make a small profit, but many of those who are not so lucky have resorted to slaughtering more breeding sows to cut their costs.

Since mid-June an extra 15,500 sows have been slaughtered. That works out at between 3% and 4% of the total UK breeding herd.

The National Pig Association expects the result to be increased prices of bacon and sausages by the autumn.

"Because of the length of the production cycle, we won't see the impact of these numbers going out of the herd for eight to 12 months," said Zoe Davies, the NPA's general manager.

"That's when we will start to see the shortages and the prices probably creep up."

More sows are also being slaughtered across Europe which will add to the shortage of pork. And there are other changes afoot across the Channel that are likely to affect supply.

In 1999, a ban was brought in on small metal crates known as sow stalls in the UK.

Only now are similar welfare rules being brought in across EU. In theory, it should make it easier for British farmers to compete.

But Fergus Howie remains to be convinced that the law will make the difference it should.

"If is is properly implemented it will be a fair playing field but we are really worried that it won't be properly implemented and product will be coming into this country that would be illegal."

At Wicks Manor in Tolleshunt Major, the Howie family make bacon, sausages and ham from their animals and that has helped keep the farm afloat.

But for the farmers relying on a fair price for their pigs, it looks set to be another year of battling to stay in business despite prices rising on the shelves.