Challenges pig breeders face
The pig industry in Europe is facing formidable challenges as it is one of the most competitive farming sectors despite massive assistance given by the European Union through its Common Agricultural Policy. Local pig breeders face even more daunting risks as the harsh consequences of economies of scales threaten to eliminate those producers that cannot satisfy customers’ demand for safe, wholesome and reasonably-priced farm products.
Oliver Frendo, a veterinarian and a campaigner on behalf of Maltese pig farmers, says that while local pig farmers had a 90 per cent market share of pork products sold locally before Malta joined the EU, this has now shrunk to below 30 per cent. He warns: “It is getting to the point where many farmers are just giving up.”
Supporters of locally-produced pork products acknowledge the inexorable effects of market forces in the free economy. Danish pig farmers managing large pig factory farms can produce high-quality products at lower prices than Maltese farmers whose herds are much smaller.
The local pig breeders’ cooperative complains about food fraud as some retailers may be selling imported pork products at the same prices as Maltese pork. It conducted a marketing campaign to promote locally-produced pork products it insists come from more ethical methods of farming.
The future of pig farming in this country will depend on the ability of farmers and policymakers in the industry finding a niche in the market that is supported by hard evidence that the local pork products are indeed superior to imported ones. Only in this way can consumers be persuaded to pay a premium price to buy local pork products.
The ethical branding of pork products is a formidable challenge for both local and foreign pig farmers. For instance, the excessive use of antibiotics in pork is leading to the growth of ‘superbugs’ in humans that are resistant to antibiotics. Foreign pig factories cram the animals into such horrendous conditions they need to be routinely dosed with antibiotics just to keep them alive. Breeders in Malta need to show they do not overuse antibiotics to rear pigs.
Modern meat production has proven to be efficient and profitable but comes with its own set of problems. Environmental studies indicate that the impact of phosphorous, nitrates and bacteria from accumulated manure have serious negative effects on the water table as well as air pollution that can be harmful to respiratory health.
Livestock farmers have to commit themselves to raise standards in the production of meat products that will, ultimately, be consumed by their customers.
The industry needs to face up to the issues of sustainability together with challenges of diseases and food safety.
Livestock farmers have an ethical and moral obligation in the production of meat and if this obligation is handled well, consumers will eventually be convinced that it is worth paying a premium for a product that is guaranteed to have high safety standards.
Claiming legitimate financial support and urging the authorities to curb food fraud is only a small part of the solution to the existential threat to local pig breeders. Environmental and consumer concerns about the safety of the meat products they buy should persuade livestock farmers to restrict drug use in farming and to adopt production systems that are more welfare friendly.
This is a Times of Malta print editorial