The majority of European Union countries are likely to miss the approaching deadline to meet new pig welfare requirements, raising the possibility of illegally produced pork entering the U.K., according to a report published by BPEX.

Legislation imposing a partial ban on the use of gestation stalls in the EU comes into force in January 2013 – more than 10 years after the U.K. completely banned their use.

According to the report, U.K. pork imports have risen steadily since 2002 despite the fact that retailers and foodservice operators expressed support for the U.K. pork industry when it adopted the new welfare standards in 1999.

The U.K.’s major retailers, which account for about 75 percent of sales of imported pork, have continued importing cheaper pork produced under methods which would have been illegal in the U.K. The U.K. hog herd has shrunk by 40 percent in the past decade and currently faces another profitability crisis that may force more producers out of business.

Few, if any, EU member states will be fully-compliant with the legislation and it is acknowledged that a considerable portion of pork producers in those countries have not yet updated production systems as required by the legislation.

BPEX believes non-compliant, illegally produced pork will inevitably enter the U.K. if strong measures are not taken. It is calling for retailers and major foodservice companies to ensure all imports come from suppliers who conform to high welfare production methods.

"It is more than likely that many pig enterprises throughout the EU will fail to move to full compliance with these higher welfare standards, which incidentally still fall short of the standards adopted by U.K. pig farmers,” BPEX Chairman Stewart Houston said. "So there is every chance that pork produced to lower welfare standards will continue to be imported into the U.K. illegally.”

“It was inevitable, when the EU eventually compelled the adoption of higher welfare standards, that their production costs would rise,” according to Houston.

“We expect many producers throughout the EU will quit the industry, that supply will tighten and prices will rise.”

The only way to ensure significant amounts of noncompliant pork are not imported is for major retail and food service companies to ensure that all pork is fully traceable and meets U.K. or the new EU standards, according to Houston. “It’s no exaggeration to describe it as a matter of saving our industry. It’s that serious.”

In the longer term, the changes in hog production standards required by the legislation are likely to lead to reduced pork production across Europe.

Source: BPEX