The hunger for Danish Pig production will be put under pressure if FMD cuts the number of UK suppliers, but Danish pig farmers' complaints that tough green legislation is preventing them from expanding and achieving economies of scale are being ignored says Ed Bedington There is a real air of optimism surrounding the Danish pig industry at the moment. Even though foot and mouth disease failed to migrate to Denmark, the country still felt its effects as major world markets placed Europe-wide bans on exports. But confidence remains high among the country's producers, according to Anne Birgitte Lundholt, managing director of Danske Slagterier. DS is the representative body funded by the country's 15,000 pig farmers, looking after a wide range of issues, from pig breeding to trade policy. Lundholdt says the confidence is being reflected by the level of new investment in the production infrastructure. She says there's a good reason for this: "After two very difficult years in 1998 and 1999 for all EU pig producers, we have seen a significant recovery in prices." And, she says, those prices appear to have been relatively unaffected by the FMD outbreak. Danish producers, however, did suffer from the various bans placed on European exports, particularly by Japan and the US, both extremely important export markets. Fortunately a large number of those markets, including Japan, have now re-opened and trading is returning to normal. The severity of the outbreak in the UK has also had an impact on Danish producers, according to Malcolm Parkinson, managing director of Tulip International UK, one of the country's biggest exporters of pig meat and bacon. Parkinson says the ravages of FMD will shrink the number of British pig producers further, which in turn will lead to extra demand on Danish exporters. "You need a healthy industry. If the number of producers in Britain shrinks, then that puts pressure elsewhere on the rest of the industry. "Because of environmental restrictions, there is a finite number of pigs you can have in Denmark. "I think the rumblings of FMD will carry on for the rest of the year ­ it's not over by any stretch of the imagination. "We should now be concentrating on how we can stop it from happening again, what we can learn from it, and what the Danish system can learn from it." The environment is a major issue in Denmark, a country which has always prided itself on its green image, and the pig industry is no exception. There have been restrictions for the last decade on slurry disposal of 170kg per hectare, which is the reason why farmers are limited to the number of pigs they can have in relation to land they own or have access to. Pig farmers claim the government's rules restrict farm development and make it difficult for them to achieve economies of scale. This is set to worsen as the Danish government is looking to impose further environmental legislation as well as lowering the level of slurry disposal to 140kg per hectare. DS's Lundholt says: "This excessively bureaucratic and costly environmental legislation threatens to undermine our global competitiveness." Pig producers are fighting the proposals, but with a general election around the corner, environmental issues are likely to remain high on the agenda. Food safety is also an important issue in Denmark and high up the list is the use of antibiotic growth promoters. Lundholt says: "There has been a major public debate in Denmark about the threat from development of resistance to antibiotics in the human population. "As a result, the use of antibiotic growth promoters has been banned in all pig production since January 2000." The country has also worked hard to eliminate all unnecessary use of medicines in Danish pig production. To this end, vets can only prescribe medicines, not sell them. Statistics and information are also being gathered which will help reduce medicine use further. Lundholt adds: "Our new VETSTAT database will provide a detailed picture of all veterinary medicine use in Denmark and will allow individual farmers to benchmark their performance against industry standards." She says recent results from the annual surveillance for residues in meat confirms Danish producers continue to meet high standards. "At the moment Denmark produces 10% of the pigs in the EU, but our producers accounted for just 1.5% of EU veterinary medicine use." Lundholt also claims Danish pig producers lead the way when it comes to salmonella control. "Our national programme to control salmonella in pig production has been in place since 1995, and already we've seen evidence of a reduction in cases of human salmonellosis, which can be directly attributed to pigmeat. "Many of our competitors will need to take more action in this field." Tulip International is one of the biggest processors of pigmeat in Denmark with a recognised and respected UK brand ­ Danepak. The company has been in the UK since 1962 and its bacon operation has an annual turnover of more than £200m. However it is not sitting on its laurels and new md Parkinson is keen to move into new, even revolutionary areas of the market. As part of this, Danepak, best known for its bacon products, is beginning to expand into newer areas. Included in this are convenient pork based meal solutions like Danepak Saucy Combos, Danepak Pork Perfections and most recently Danepak Breaded Nuggets. Parkinson says: "Danepak can translate into other things so we're selling other things. "We're repositioning the brand as family meal solutions, and we are looking into expanding the brand franchise across other categories." To back up this move, Tulip is investing £3m to provide a cohesive new look across the entire range to secure its position as the leading value-added pork brand. This will be supported by a new advertising campaign. As well as expanding Danepak, Parkinson is hoping to move traditional bacon away from being a commodity and reposition it as a lifestyle product, a strategy which has worked well for other former commodity categories such as coffee. "I think the thing that interests me is that it's been a classic commodity for years. People think bacon is just bacon, but it isn't, there's a lot more to it." Parkinson says the existing bacon category is confusing for consumers, despite the small number of products on display. Fixtures are traditionally divided into back, middle and streaky bacon, but studies show shoppers do not really know the difference between the rashers and cures or how to use them. The company recently carried out research which looked at segmenting the fixtures according to the way customers actually buy their products. Parkinson adds: "We've been able to identify four different categories of people who all have different needs. "We are partly catering for some of them, but not all. "The whole thing has refocused our eyes on what we should be doing. "We want to deliver new vision to the bacon category. We need to simplify it and put in new products. It's not just about a piece of bacon in a packet­ is it for a breakfast or a main meal?" Parkinson sees plenty of room for the bacon category to grow, and he intends to be at the forefront. "At the moment, people are buying bacon and then cutting it up to put it in their meal. Why aren't we providing it ready made, or in a new format that can be used as a snack? Can we come up with a product that does away with the mess of frying or grilling bacon? "I'd have a bacon butty every day if it took me as long as making a cup of coffee!" So, as far as Denmark is concerned, the bacon industry is looking healthy, with plenty of room to grow, as Parkinson suggests. "I think the export market will continue to grow over the next few years. "If the British market does indeed shrink due to foot and mouth, there will definitely be an increase in demand. "I think the future is positive for Danish." {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}