Pig census data published for 2008 for 15 European Union (EU) member states, representing 90 percent of the market, show that total pig numbers at the early-summer count were down nearly 6 percent compared with 2007, to 143.4 million head. Even more surprising is an 8 percent fall in the number of in-pig sows to 9.1 million with the most significant breeding herd contraction in Spain, Poland and Germany.

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The decline in pig numbers had little impact on total EU pig meat production in the first half of 2008, but from the third quarter, tighter supplies began to be reflected in higher pig prices. In the final quarter of the year, EU production could be down by as much as 5 percent compared with the same three months in 2007.

In a number of member states, where up until now production has been above year-earlier levels, a fall in availability is forecast. In Denmark, gross indigenous production (GIP) is forecast to be down 10 percent compared with output in the fourth quarter of 2007. In Germany and Spain, GIP is forecast to be down 2 and 4 percent respectively. In Poland, 19 percent fewer pigs are forecast to be available for slaughter or live export than in the same quarter a year ago.

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A particularly sharp fall in production is anticipated in the UK, Denmark, Poland, and other eastern European countries. In the EU as a whole, production could be down around 5 percent in the first half of 2009. Baring unforeseen circumstances, EU pig prices should continue to increase up until summer 2009.