Continuing tension between pigmeat retailers, processors and British producers, despite the price recovery, can perhaps be explained partly by the farmers' failure to recognise how their industry has been sidelined in Europe. The UK ranks only eighth in the EU league table, with a national herd smaller than Belgium's. Contraction of the breeding herd in this country has attracted plenty of publicity in the past couple of years, and producer lobbyists often point out sow numbers have collapsed from nearly 900,000 in the early 1980s to perhaps fewer than 650,000. Sharply increased productivity has diluted the effect on pigmeat output, but the dramatic erosion of the breeding stock head count means the industry has suffered a loss of political credibility, especially in Brussels. Of more practical significance to major retailers are signs of a similar change in perception on the part of the processing sector. Although Malton, especially, insists it is keeping some capacity mothballed rather than shutting facilities permanently, among its competitors is a growing suspicion the recent breeding herd contraction and the swing back to net importer status in the pork market are more than cyclical changes. If this proves true, the processors and retailers will have to accommodate a permanently bigger imported raw material component to keep capacity utilised. The most obvious sources in the medium term are the three EU countries showing evidence of structural expansion despite the cyclical supply squeeze ­ Spain, Denmark and France. {{MEAT }}