Very high prices on the continent causing concern in Brussels Britain is beginning to look like the bargain basement of the EU pig market, and the FMD crisis is just one of several reasons for believing pork buyers here can look forward to plenty more cheap raw material. Prices have traditionally been higher in this country than in most continental markets and Ireland, partly due to the fresh pork retail trade's need for a relatively light pig though in recent years other influences, including the costs of anti-BSE measures, strong sterling, and supermarkets' support for home producers, have been seen as reinforcing the differential. But the premium began being eroded late last year, and now pigs are cheaper in Britain than almost anywhere else in western Europe, despite a sharp drop in production as farmers have culled large numbers of breeding stock. The most obvious pressure results from the export ban imposed when the first case of FMD was found in February. Exports usually absorb about 20% of UK pigmeat output, mostly manufacturing pork though with an increasing volume of high quality cuts in recent years and a small tonnage of bacon. With these sales blocked while slaughterings of pigs increase quickly after the brief compulsory shutdown of abattoirs, it seems obvious the domestic market could become oversupplied. On the other hand, breeding herd contraction, harsher here than anywhere else in Europe, means the return to a normal' kill rate will still leave British production much lower than last year. Yet the reversal of the usual price relationship between the UK and other EU markets reflects very high prices on the continent rather than low values here, and this is causing concern in Brussels and some national capitals. The demand switch triggered by the BSE scares and supply disruption resulting from anti-FMD safeguards have made pig prices volatile and mostly high, despite the US, Canadian, Japanese and Russian bans on imports from the EU. According to the Meat and Livestock Commission, the most recent EU pigmeat management committee discussed "fears that these current prices will encourage production and therefore cause the pig market to crash in 2002". {{M/E MEAT }}