Pig industry punching above its weight

28 Apr , 2015  

The pig production industry makes a massive contribution to the Irish economy.

As the third largest farming sector in Ireland, farm gate output equated to €432m in 2012 but producers are facing constant challenges as IFA (Irish Farmers’ Association) Pigs and Pig Meat Committee Chairman Pat O’Flaherty explains.

The IFA Pigs and Pig Meat Committee is the representative body for the country’s 300 pig producers who produced almost 3.5 million pigs for slaughter in 2012. These farms combined with the feed mills and factories give employment to over 12,000 people and with assistance from the Government under the new Rural Development programme this has the potential to significantly increase.

“The industry is a fantastic success story for Ireland as not only is Irish meat in demand in our home market, it is also in demand abroad with almost 60% of Irish bacon and pork products exported.  Exports are growing every year and this is a testament to the quality of our product,” Kildare man Pat enthuses.

“Irish bacon and pork has an excellent reputation around the world and we want to keep it that way. We are thus far the only sector to surpass the targets that were set out for us in the Food Harvest 2020 strategy compiled by Minister Coveney.  Although small compared to other farming sectors, the pig industry is cutting edge and efficient and the farmers involved, who are highly skilled, invest in growing their business continuously.”

Key policy areas and areas of activity for the IFA Pigs Committee include: pig prices and weekly market analysis; meetings with processors to maintain pressure to return a fair price with both suppliers and committee members; promoting the product and ensuring access to the best markets for pigs and pig meat.  In addition, the IFA has made significant progress on pig health, welfare and environmental issues and was instrumental in ensuring the survival of the Teagasc Pig Production Development unit which promises that research and advisory will be available to Irish pig farmers into the future.

Pig farmers have come under enormous pressure from inferior imported meat products being sold to Irish consumers often masqueraded as Irish meat.  To tackle this problem, IFA set up the world’s first pig meat DNA programme ‘DNAcertified’.   This programme allows IFA to scientifically separate the imported meat from the Irish so that consumers no longer have to rely on labels to be confident in the origin of their meat.

The IFA partnered with IdentiGen in Ireland to build the DNA TraceBack system for boars. All Irish breeding boars are DNA tagged, which is then used to generate a DNA-ID, a unique code which identifies the animal, its offspring and subsequently all produce from these animals.  The programme now forms part of the Bord Bia quality assurance programme, and both Bord Bia and the IFA collect and test samples from retailers, butchers and the catering trade on a monthly basis to ensure that if they are claiming the meat is Irish, that it is.

“There has been a lot of mislabelling by supermarkets over the years with regard to their pork and bacon products. With this system, we can determine whether the product is Irish or not. What we would say to the big retailers is ‘if it’s not Irish, put it on the packet’ and let the customers decide whether to buy it or not.

“The idea behind this system is to increase the sales of Irish produce in the domestic and export markets by providing the consumer with a cast-iron guarantee, backed by science, that the product is of Irish origin,” Pat continues.

The Pigs and Pig Meat Committee Chairman welcomes the development which has seen SuperValu become the first retailer in Ireland to use the DNA database to test their own meat.  This allows the company to provide a guarantee to customers that all of its bacon is Irish.

“We would always encourage consumers to only buy produce with the Bord Bia logo on them. By buying Irish produce, you are supporting Irish jobs.”

The role of IFA Pigs and Pig Meat Committee Chairman is a voluntary one which Pat, who succeeded Tim Cullinan at the beginning of 2013, will serve for two years. His day job involves running separate pig farms – consisting of 700 sows –in Mulhuddart and Rathangan, which are about the same distance from his home in Maynooth.

Pat has worked in the industry for the past 30 years. After graduating with a degree in Agricultural Science from UCD in 1984, he worked as a sales representative in the Leinster and Ulster areas for Kavanagh’s Mills in Maynooth for 14 years. He later spent two years covering the 32 counties for PIC (Pig Improvement Company).

Pat and his wife Mary have five young boys – Liam, Cian, Eoin and twins Evan and Emmett.

Taken from Irish Tractor & Agri magazine Vol 2 No 2, June/July 2014

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