Pig breeders ‘lack’ much-needed EU aid to survive competition
Foreign pork cheaper to produce
Pig breeders were not being given the EU funding help they needed to survive fierce competition from oversees, MEP hopeful Peter Agius said.
He was reacting to a report in The Sunday Times of Malta, which said that the industry in Malta was collapsing under mounting pressure from European competitors and the spread of new food fraud.
The problem is primarily one of economies of scale.
Foreign pork is far cheaper to produce than it is in Malta because farmers here have to shell out a bomb to import the cereal feeds that fattens pigs before slaughter, according to the breeders’ cooperative.
Maltese operations are also tiny compared to the mammoth factory-scale ventures on the mainland, meaning the cost per pig is much higher than it is for, say, Dutch farmers to rear a sow.
Local sellers are also opting for the cheaper foreign produce.
We have to help Maltese farmers
Supermarket fridges and butcher displays, the cooperative said, were being stuffed with cheaper foreign roasts, chops and sausages but sold to consumers at the same price as Maltese pork, with sellers turning a hefty profit.
To make matters worse, some unscrupulous sellers were labelling foreign meat as local producer to cash in on many buyers’ preference for Maltese products, it added.
Dr Agius, a Nationalist Party candidate for the forthcoming European elections who has been holding regular meetings with the cooperative, said the sector was going through “the worst period ever”.
Tons of imported meat, he noted, was flooding the market. However, other European breeders enjoyed financial incentives their Maltese counterparts did not.
A recent EU directive on animal welfare, was enforced locally via a series of legal notices that effectively added more restrictions.
Governments in other member states had tied the new requirement to financial incentives, which not only encouraged breeders to be compliant but also acted as a form of indirect assistance that did not qualify as State aid, Dr Agius pointed out.
Similar solutions, he said, could be found when it came to the higher feeding costs Maltese farmers faced.
“If we want to see this sector continue to feed our families, we have to help Maltese farmers,” he said.
How bad is the situation for the local pig breeding industry?
Prior to joining the EU, practically all the pork sold on the island was local, however, the market share dropped from more than 90% to less than 30%, with overall sales taking a major hit too, according to the cooperative.
Some breeders had already decided to call it quits and most others were struggling to make ends meet, it warned.