European pork industry answers to societal demands

European countries choose different paths to meet the rising social demands faced by animal productions. The French Pork and Pig Institute (IFIP) has analyzed several actions conducted in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Facing the rising social demands for faming methods that are more respectful of animal welfare without impairing competitiveness is a daunting challenge. The French Pork and Pig Institute (IFIP) has looked to several actions conducted in Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark. In addition, with other French institutes focusing on the other species (ruminants and poultry), it launched a new three-year project to be conducted in France.

In Germany, faced with society’s growing demands for animal friendly production and the risk of tighter regulation, the actors in the pork industry have organized themselves to make a credible response without undermining their competitiveness, explains Christine Roguet and Michel Rieu, IFIP economists. 

A survey conducted in 2013 shown that 3.5 percent of Germans claimed to be vegetarian and 11.6 percent flexitarian (moderate to reasoned consumption of meat), 9.5 percent wanted to reduce their meat consumption. Their choices were motivated by a negative perception of the impact of animal production on the environment and on the living conditions of farm animals. By showing itself proactive, the pork industry hopes to postpone the imposition of stricter regulations, secure the domestic market and conquer other markets by taking a lead in the animal welfare issue the two economists wrote in “Les Cahiers de l’Ifip.” They explain that, in Germany, two approaches were chosen. 

German animal welfare initiatives and incentives

The first one imposed stringent requirements for animal welfare at production level and distinction through labeling, e.g. “Aktion Tierwohl” (Action Animal Welfare) by the cooperative Westfleisch and “Für Mehr Tierschutz” (For More Animal Welfare) by the Vion Food Group. But higher costs and abundance of different labeled products keep them in market niches. 

The industry’s collective sectorial “Initiative zum Tierwol” (Animal Welfare Initiative), launched in 2012, brings together all the stakeholders, including Tönnies, a leading German global multi-tier food industry business. Unlike its competitor, the top slaughter company of Germany didn’t propose a concept in its own name but agreed to be part of a global initiative.

Farmers associations, slaughterhouses and distributors are part of the initiative. Farmers who wish to take part in the program must fulfill several conditions. First of all, they must meet one of two criteria in a first list -- 10 or 20 or 40 percent extra surface area or/and permanent access to straw. Each measure drives to a bonus, e.g. 40 percent extra surface area gives a bonus of 4,4€/pig in farrowing and 8€/pig for fattening. Farmers are free to choose additional measures like natural ventilation, non-castration, etc,. The bonus amount is fixed for a period of three years. When they qualify, farmers receive an incentive package of 500€ by “physiological stade” (1,500€ maximum for a breeder-fattener structure).

In July 2014, distributors fixed at 0,04€/kg of commercialized meat make their payment to finance bonuses for farmers taking part in the initiative. The ceiling set from the retail chains is about a 100 million €/year. The work plan was drawn up by the program initiators:

2015 (year 1): 2,000 fatteners taking part with 4 million welfare pigs.

2017 (year 3): 10,000 farms taking part with 20 million welfare pigs.

The Netherlands opts for stars

In the Netherlands, faced with societal demands for better farm animal welfare, the choice had been driven by public authorities with a first law in 1994, which officially entered into force in 1998. 

In view of the extra costs generated, the Ministry of Agriculture moderate its ambition in 2010 and give more encouragement to private initiative which differentiate and identify products that met social demands like Beter Leven (“Better Life”) label, a star-based rating and labeling system. 

Here, 900 farmers produce more than 800,000 Beter Leven pigs.

Denmark and France bridge gap between standard and organic

The Netherlands and Germany share a common initiative for a pig welfare label that was launched in Denmark in 2013 by the country’s two slaughterers Danish Crown and Tican. The concept also fills the gap between standard pork and organic pork. 

The label, Velfærdsgris (Welfare Pig), is recommended by the association for the protection of animals, Dyrenes Venner (Animal Friends), but came under fire from another animal protection association, Dyrenes Beskyttelse, which supports organic production. The Ministry of Agriculture presented an action plan under a broad coalition, which included consumers, animal protection associations, scientists, farmers and meat industry.

France is at the stage of individual initiatives by groups of producers in partnership with distributors, such as “welfare pork,” “antibiotic-free pork” and “new agriculture pork” initiatives.

To better answer growing social demands collectively, French Institutes (poultry, ruminants and pigs ones) began with a survey dealing with the controversies concerning farming. 

A first survey of controversies in France

Elsa Delanoue, sociologist, conducted this first survey. Farming is questioned on three main axis: environment (water pollution, feed raw material, noise and dirt nuisance); welfare (housing and pain) and health (either antibiotic free or zoonosis risks). 

“We’ve identified four main groups of consumers: abolitionists, who want the end of meat eating; alternative, who ask for the end of intensive farming and development of alternative farming; intensive, who look for the development of intensive livestock production to maintain competitive; and progressives, who ask for gradual improvement of standard production. This first survey will continue as a phD for three years,” explained Delanoue. The increasing concentration in pig production adds to the pressure.

Farming concentration increases demands

In the EU, most of pig production is in a concentrated area, reaching up to more than 38 pigs/square km from Denmark and northern Germany through the Netherlands to western Belgium, western France, northeast of Spain and northern Italy. 

In some of those regions, poultry and milk production are also very concentrated. For example, in the west of French the Brittany region represents 3 percent of France’s surface, accounts for 38 percent of French pigs, 17 percent of French poultry and 10 percent of French cows production. Weser-Ems represents 5 percent of Germany surface, 21 percent of German pigs, 32 percent of German poultry and 9 percent of German cows. That is very similar in Lombardia: 8 percent of Italy’s surface, but holds 51 percent of Italian pigs, 17 percent of Italian poultry and 30 percent of Italian cows.

And the trend to concentration is going on with few farms replaced with much bigger ones. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of sows per farm increased ten-fold in Denmark and three-fold in France. At the same time the number of farms decreased by eight-fold in Denmark and by three-fold in France.

As a final result, the average farm in Denmark counts 520 sows while in France it’s 125. 

“The main pressures and drivers of this trend are well known,” explained Christine Roguet, an economist at the French pig institute. “For example, economies of scale better cover the fixed costs and clustering effects even if public policies tend to slow down concentration. The pig market is a free one, driven by cost reductions. A part through a positioning of their offer on niche markets, pig producers depend on consumers and regulation pressure to see any change from that main trend.”

The need to meet social demands regarding welfare and environment protection might balance the economical pressure only if every piece of pork and every delicatessen price allows a reasonable return on investment.

This article is based on the presentations made during IFIP conference at SPACE in September.

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