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A fascinating insight into the European pig sector at the EPP Conference

7th Jun 2023 / By Rebecca Veale

NPA chief policy adviser Rebecca Veale was part of a UK delegation that enjoyed an interesting few days at the European Pig Producers Conference 2023 in Spain.

Rebecca Veale 2In May, six of us headed to beautiful Seville for the European Pig Producers Conference 2023. With 585 members from 22 countries across Europe, over 150 were able to make the journey to the conference.

The room was buoyant, but it was apparent it is not just our producers that have had a pretty awful time; ASF, low prices, the pandemic and all the issues associated with that, plus soaring input costs have made business much more challenging for the majority.

The conference opened with a presentation on the Spanish production model; they are the third biggest producer in the world producing over 5m tonnes of pigmeat every year.

They imported 3.5million piglets in 2022 and exports to China have been healthy. There’s been a lot of integration with the top 10 companies producing 44% of the pigs and top 20 producing about 80%. Iberico pork is a niche part of Spanish production, at 6% volume and a value of 13% of the market, but producers of Iberico ham are able to demand a premium (it helps it is delicious!).

With specific breeding required to carry the name, the pigs also have to live outdoors for a minimum of three months a year and allowed to forage for acorns.

The brand is managed well and supported by a strong marketing strategy, so, unsurprisingly, the exports fly. Which is similar to the approach taken by the Italians with PGI products, such as Parma Ham. About 40% of animal production systems in Italy are based on PGI and PPO products, and 41 out of 44 of these are pork based, so there is great importance placed on marketing these products.

The European Food Safety Authority working group chair presented the groups’ views on welfare – whilst it was evident adaptable farrowing systems are better in terms of welfare for the sow (and piglets if managed correctly), he also stated the number of piglets born alive should not outweigh the number of teats on the sow, and pen sizes should offer sows 6.6sq.m (full pen size 7.8sq.m).

Concern in the room for some of these suggestions and potential timelines for change was evident, with strong pressure from vegan lobby groups and governments – we’re definitely not alone in this space.
ASF was a hot topic amongst those countries battling the disease and those without it. For some countries, it is endemic and the question is raised whether eradication is possible.

Spain and France are discussing regionalisation agreements with key trading partners just in case, which is something we have been pushing for in the UK – I’m hoping this may help persuade our Government.
All in all, it was a very worthwhile trip. I’d definitely urge producers to get involved with EPP – next year they’re off to France!