Minister in talks over crisis in pig farming

Agricultural Minister Eskil Erlandsson met with pig breeders this week to discuss the acute crisis in the business. The demand for the more expensive Swedish pork is so low, the abattoirs don't want to accept the animals for slaughter. Instead Swedish pig breeders have started shipping piglets to Poland and Germany so they can be bred there.

It has been tough for Swedish pig breeders for years. When Sweden joined the EU almost 20 years ago, the pork consumed here was almost entirely from Swedish pig farms. These days the Swedish proportion is down to 68 percent, reports Swedish Radio News.

Things were made worse in January, when Russia banned imports of pork from the EU, after African Swine fever was discovered in wild boer in Latvia. But even without that blow, the situation has been looking grim.

Over the past six months, several abattoirs have started to refuse pork from Swedish farmers, as their meat is more expensive than elsewhere. According to Swedish pig farmers it's the strict animal welfare laws here makes it difficult for them to compete with cheaper product from abroad.

Among the Swedish criteria is that a pig's tail is not allowed to be chopped off, and there must be hay on the ground in the pig stye. In many other countries the tails are chopped off, as the animals in a crowded pig stye end up chewing on each others tails, causing infections and diseases.

Ahead of the meeting with the minister on Wednesday, the pig breeders' association demanded compensation for following the stricter Swedish rules. They claim Swedish pork is 2,5 kroner more expensive per kilo than abroad, due to the higher legal standards in Sweden - and they want the government to pay for it.

"When we build our pigsties, it costs more. So what we have emphasises is the need to get investment support for the difference between the EU directive and what is demanded in Swedish animal welfare laws," said the association's chairman Ingemar Olsson.

But Agriculture Minister Eskil Erlandsson would not give in to these demands, as they would be against EU-rules against unfair competition. The meeting instead resulted in three working groups that will review the whole industry and how it can be supported in the future. And Erlandsson admits that this is an industry in crisis.

"The Swedish pig is under a lot of pressure and it is a serious crisis at the moment," he said.

Asked if the Swedish pig is healthier than pigs abroad, Erlandsson pointed to what he called "high level of food safety" with Europe's lowest use of antibiotics in meat production, and a virtually salmonella-free country.

Erlandsson said the public sector should not be buying cheap foreign meat. He says he want to encourage schools, elderly care centres and hospitals to buy Swedish meat. But how this can be done without breaking EU-laws of trade fairness?

"For example, you can demand that the pig has the tail when it is slaughter and not chopped off as it is in many other parts of Europe. This is not allowed in our country, pigs are not supposed to be treated like that, and I think we should not buy meat from pigs who still have their tail, and not from the ones that don't have a tail," Erlandsson said.

This was welcomed by Annette Skog, who is the chairman  of Sveriges djurbönder, an organisation of 15,000 meat producers.

"You can't have a system where there is a national control system which stipulated that we uphold certain rules and then the public sector goes and buys stuff that is produced with less criteria than we are allowed to do here in Sweden. So it IS possible to formulate specific criteria which would benefit the national market of Swedish meat," she said.