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How coronavirus is affecting key EU pork producing countries

2nd Apr 2020 / By Alistair Driver

With UK processors, according to most reports, continuing to operate, albeit with some significant challenges, AHDB's Bethan Wilkins has taken a look at the COVID-19 situation in other EU countries 

After all, a significant share of pork consumed in the UK is imported, with EU trade also playing an important role in balancing the carcase. 


  • Germany is the largest EU producer, trader and consumer of pig meat. It is the primary destination for British cull sows, a supplies approximately 12% of UK pig meat consumption. It is a net exporter of pig meat.
  • British sows can continue to be exported to Germany.
  • Temporary border checks on its land borders with France, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Denmark were imposed on Monday 16 March.
  • Restaurants closed in Bavaria on March 16, and this extended to nationwide social distancing measures on 22 March. Restaurants can now only offer takeaway or delivery services.
  • Anecdotally:
    • The situation on the slaughter pig market has stabilized relatively quickly following two price drops. Meat demand has calmed down somewhat after significant demand increases.
    • Shipments of frozen pork to China are increasing little by little.
    • Slaughter continues at a high level, in part to replenish frozen stocks.
    • As elsewhere, demand from the catering trade and from the out-of-home sector has almost come to a standstill, while the retail sector has been strong.


  • Denmark supplies approximately 14% of UK pig meat consumption, but also receives 5% of our exports. Denmark too is a net pig meat exporter.
  • The Danish border has been closed to foreign nationals since 14 March, and will remain closed until at least April 13. Stay at home advice was issued on 17 March for 14 days. Restaurants are expected to remain closed until at least 30 March.
  • Anecdotal comment suggests:
    • Exports to China continue and there are few logistical problems here and customers are accepting delays.
    • As with the UK there has been a big shift in demand away from foodservice and more to supermarkets, but overall demand is reported to be holding up. There was apparently only limited panic buying in Danish supermarkets.
    • Slaughtering of pigs in Denmark are following national forecasts, with no panic deliveries. Slaughtering was steady in the first quarter compared to last year, and is expected to be higher than last year from the second quarter. Overall there has been apparently little disruption.


  • Ireland supplies approximately 7% of UK pig meat consumption, particularly processed product. It is a net pig meat exporter, and receives around 16% of our exports (although some may be for further processing and not the end market)
  • Social distancing restrictions have been in place since March 24, with cafés and restaurants operating as take-away only.
  • More than half the weekly pig slaughter takes place in only two sites. Should either plant go down in the coming weeks, it would have significant ramifications for pig farmers and secondary pork processors, which supply rashers, sausages and other pork cuts direct to supermarkets in Ireland and the UK.

The Netherlands

  • The Netherlands supplies approximately 11% of UK pig meat consumption, and receives around 10% of UK exports. It is a key re-export destination, and also a net pig meat exporter itself.
  • Restaurants and cafes closed from March 15, with social distancing restrictions tightened from March 23.
  • Reports indicate
    • Slaughter line speeds have apparently being slowed when social distancing rules cannot be respected.
    • Foodservice sales have been falling sharply, but retail have sales boomed. In the Netherlands, foodservice is less important for pork than it is for beef. As a result, for now overall sales remain reasonable.
    • Exports are still moving and, exports to China are improving after some difficult months.
    • Production has been quite challenging, with a reported 10 to 15% of workers absent. Preventive measures that slow down the speed of slaughtering have been taken.


  • Spain supplies approximately 4% of UK pig meat consumption, and is a very significant EU producer and global exporter.
  • A state of emergency was declared on March 14, with movement restrictions throughout the country. There is a lockdown throughout the country, and non-essential businesses closed.
  • Border restrictions for people have been in place since 23 March
  • Anecdotal reports indicate:
    • In Spain, supply and demand are relatively well balanced, with no drastic cuts worth mentioning.
    • However due to the lack of empty meat containers from China, Spanish marketers estimate that it will still take two to three weeks before proper shipment of goods is possible again.


  • Although not directly linked to the UK market in particular, Italy is a significant importer of EU pig meat in general.
  • Only one airport per region is open. Lockdowns began on February 21, and were extended nationwide on March 7. Restaurants were closed around March 11.
  • Anecdotally:
    • Italy has the biggest problem with missing and sick employees, forcing the closure of about 30 to 40% of processing capacity. Although the profit margins of slaughterhouses and cutters are said to be at high levels, they are running at significantly reduced throughputs.