Pig farm

Source: Getty

Paying the lowest price for meat could mean compromising on standards, for pigs as well as the farmers that rear them

The pig sector is in crisis.

A labour shortage of skilled workers, as well as increased difficulties in exporting, has left pig farmers with a growing backlog of livestock. And with supply significantly outweighing levels of demand, the price farmers are now getting for their product has plummeted.

While some have taken this as an opportunity to offer price cuts and promotions – and while this might help with the backlog in the short term – a longer-term strategy is going to be needed over the next three months.

We have always had a strong sense of right and wrong, particularly when it comes to animal welfare, and that’s why we rear our pigs differently.

Shockingly, at least half of the 700 million pigs in the world are intensively farmed.

This means they are housed indoors, often in barren and overcrowded sheds. Animals in these conditions are subjected to a lack of natural light and fresh air, and consequently, are prone to become frustrated or bored – leading to a number of agitated and abnormal behaviours such as tail or ear biting.

The reason these methods continue to be used today is simply down to the cost of production. With higher standards come higher prices and in a declining market, quite often it is the animals and farmers that pay the price.

Our stance is different. We were the first supermarket to promise that all our pigs would be born outside and we were also a pioneer in outlawing the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates. As a result, we’ve retained Compassion in World Farming’s Good Pig Award for animal welfare for nearly 10 years, since 2012.

But it’s not just our animal welfare standards that we take pride in – equally important is the welfare and livelihoods of our farmers, which is why we always strive to pay a fair price for what they produce.

Our farmers are key partners in the success of our business and true pioneers of leading food and animal welfare standards in the UK. Their dedication to and delivery of these standards not only deserves our recognition but our backing, too – particularly through the tough times, just as they have stood by us to deliver food on our plates through a global pandemic.

At their time of need, our priority is to ensure that we protect their futures, and take meaningful action that not only puts them first, but hopefully creates a step-change in the market to stabilise the industry.

Although we have a long-standing payment model that takes into account the cost of production, during these unprecedented times, our farmers need even more support.

This is why we pledge to add new measures over the coming months to help increase the price our farmers receive for their livestock.

The price of our meat has always been reflective of our high farming standards. We stand by that difference and our offer of affordable higher-welfare cuts through our essential range is a means to prevent any barriers to entry.

There will be lots of places to get gammon, pork chops, bacon and ham this Christmas. But paying the lowest price could mean compromises both in terms of the standards the meat is reared to, as well as how it might impact the farmers that reared it.

This is why we hope the public will opt for Waitrose pork this autumn/winter. Not only would it be a vital lifeline to many of our farmers, their support could help encourage the rest of the industry to follow suit and ensure we safeguard the futures of Britain’s pig farmers.