Higher Welfare Is Good If It's What Shoppers Want

UK - Pig producers who aspire to niche higher-welfare pig production should ensure they have a sufficiently rewarding contract first, says Yorkshire producer Kate Morgan in her Nuffield Scholarship report.
calendar icon 27 November 2013
clock icon 3 minute read

"If you don't have a contract for a niche product then don't produce it. Only produce what your market wants," she advised.

Ms Morgan added, "Higher welfare pigs will always have a place, but we must remember that people are more important than animals. Therefore we must make sure that people can afford pork — otherwise we kill our own market."

For her Nuffield Scholarship, Kate Morgan studied higher welfare pig production in Sweden, Denmark, China, Brazil and the United States.

In her report she argues for some welfare standards to be applied globally including the use of painkillers in castration, a universal ban on stalls, minimum stocking levels, no weaning before 28 days except into specialist buildings, adequate feed and water space, and auditing of farms and standards.

She notes that solid floors without bedding do not stay clean "and contained the worst looking pigs I saw". And she calls for good ventilation, responsible use of antibiotics, and continued research into how to phase out teething and tailing.

Among her key findings are:

  • Buildings are not the be-all and end-all of pig welfare.
  • The industry must attract and keep intelligent, forward-thinking people, as they will drive higher welfare.
  • But people are more important than animals, and poor countries should not be forced into higher welfare for pigs than for people.

Ms Morgan has some interesting observations to make, following her Nuffield travels. Key among these is the fact that every country has activists who enter farms and make videos.

"These people will always be around", she said. "It made me recognise that if we as farmers allow the public to see what we are doing and explain why we are doing it, what will the activists have to show?"

Noting how annoying it is for farmers when consumers say one thing but do another, she has returned from her travels passionate about educating consumers. "How can we expect them to pay more money for something that they don't really understand?"

The industry should not hide what it is doing, she insists. "We have minimum standards and they are not to be ashamed of, so I feel we need to show people how the animals are being raised, explain why each process is different and then allow them to choose."

Following her Nuffield travels she is looking at setting up a place where school-children can help look after animals and grow food in order to gain an understanding about food production.

"I want to teach children about cooking healthy meals and also show them all the different opportunities that agriculture offers. You don't just have to shovel the muck, well, not always .…"

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