Within a few years — and I have no idea of the time frame — European pork consumption might be looking for a bit of help. The European Union (EU) has a larger population than the U.S. and Europeans eat a lot more pig meat than Americans do.

At present, the EU is comfortably self-sufficient in pork. The Danes, with their customary energy and marketing flair, are a good example of how to export more than three times Denmark's domestic market share. But the signs on the horizon are that it won't always be so.

Americans' first reaction is often, “We hear that welfare constraints are hampering your productivity and profit.”

They are. But, accepting the impositions of very strict welfare codes and regulations already undertaken by Britain and Sweden, and likely to be similarly burdensome to the rest of the EU countries by 2008, is not the major problem likely to reduce our intrinsic livestock production in northwest Europe (Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, Brittany, Denmark and Germany). No sir, it is pollution!

If you stand back from the intricacies of pig, poultry and dairy production in countries like the Netherlands, France, Britain, Ireland, Denmark, northern Italy and northern Germany, which is where our intensive livestock production is concentrated, several things stand out:

  • Tourism is predominant

    These areas of Europe are beautiful, tend to be small, have a high human population density and enjoy an important tourist and foreign visitor trade. The recent Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in Britain rammed this fact home. It will probably cost our tourist industry three dollars to every dollar lost to livestock agriculture — through no fault of their own either.

    At the same time, most of our livestock production is crowded into these beautiful tourist-favored areas. In parts of Northern Ireland, Yorkshire (England), Brittany (France) and nearly all of Holland, you can, at times, get a distinct whiff of pigs!

    Politicians, alarmed at the prospect of sullying the goose that lays the golden tourist eggs — let alone the loud protests from our own residents in terms of smell, polluted watercourses and food sources — are hurriedly passing pollution-constraining legislation. This effectively limits the number of livestock a farmer can own. Restrictions are dependent on the land area available to dispose of the effluent (restricted to certain times of the year when the soil or the crops can absorb it).

    Whole areas are being designated NVZs (Nitrate Vulnerable Zones) where such restrictions are already underway. There is also a phosphate limit and, soon to come, trace mineral limitations. Indeed, there is talk of rural Britain eventually becoming one huge NVZ.

  • Reduction in size

    Personally, I cannot but forecast a reduction in the size of our traditional hog production areas in the foreseeable future. It is already happening in the Netherlands. In Britain, such constraints as Integrated Pollution Control looks like the straw that may break our already over-burdened back. The problem is going to get a lot worse.

    We are a too small, too beautiful, too overcrowded, too tourist-attractive part of the world for our largely urban politicians to ignore the impending threat to a large slice of Gross National Product. “After all,” they say, “food can always come from somewhere else.”

Two Alternatives

If our traditional hog-producing areas in Europe are to diminish, where will we look to fill the pail?

First, other areas not too far away like Spain (hot), Poland and the Eastern bloc (no money) and the Russian steppes (disorganized, unreliable) are options. All these current drawbacks are solvable given time, investment and training/expertise.

Second, North America has the expertise, a low-cost industry in place and the marketing will to succeed. Your present disadvantages are distance (which is solvable) and an apparent failure to recognize what the EU market is demanding now and into the future. That is, pigs produced in a certain way that do not infringe our current and proposed EU welfare and drug-use constraints. Weaning age, no antibiotic growth promoters for example, no gestation stalls, full traceback, bedding provision, hospital pens and a further crop of tiresome do's and don'ts. Yes, these are annoying, but they are law now, or will be soon.

Take-Home Message

If you want a share of this future market, then you should experiment with producing pigs this way. Your pork will not get into our market unless you do. See what extra it costs you, what the difficulties are. The sensible Canadians are starting to do this. I'm not implying you are not sensible — just maybe a bit slow off the mark? Think about it!