18 July 2001

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Pork industry still finding its feet
- processors forced to put staff on four-day week

By Miriam Dunn

Consumers, retailers, producers and food processors are still struggling to cope with a pork industry that has been left in disarray following a huge increase in demand triggered by the BSE crisis earlier in the year.

The massive rise in demand for pork products, which has led to severe shortages of certain foodstuffs, was further complicated by the ban on the importation of European pork because of the foot-and-mouth-outbreak. The situation has even led to some local processors putting their staff on a four-day week.

John Muscat, of local pork processors Prime, explained that when the first pork shortages occurred, triggered mainly by a drop in the demand for beef and customers seeking alternative products, butchers were given a higher ratio of pigs from the slaughterhouse.

"For example, while we might normally get 70 pigs for processing compared to the 100 given to the butchers, the allocation for processors was decreased to 50," he said.

Mr Muscat added that normally this wouldn’t be a problem, since processors have been importing pork from Europe for some time now and they would have been able to make the numbers up in this way.

"But then, when there was the foot-and-mouth outbreak, we were unable to import pork from Denmark, where we have our suppliers, or anywhere else in Europe, which left us stranded and unable to work at our routine rate," he said. "This situation forced us to put our staff on a four-day week."

As pork producers do their best to catch up with the increased demand in the market, supermarkets and hotels, among others, are having to make do with being supplied much smaller amounts of pork than they are ordering and sometimes nothing at all.

Customers complained that three weeks ago, there was no bacon on the supermarket shelves, while one hotelier who recently launched his summer barbecue season was unable to offer his speciality – suckling pig – because the suppliers have not yet had a chance to rear animals to the necessary weight.

Another hotelier also said that the rationing of supplies over recent weeks have sometimes made life difficult.

"For example, if we ordered 20 packets of bacon, we would get six," he said. "Of course, this gives us problems, especially because traditional English breakfast is always a favourite with guests."

Mr Muscat believes that the situation is now getting back to normal, helped on two levels, by local pork producers catching up with demand and the decision three weeks ago to allow pork to be imported from Europe once again.

"Our staff resumed a normal working week last week and, at the same, time, we had two containers of pork arrive, which is good news," he said.

His optimism was mirrored by Edwin Bartolo, of the Pig Breeders Co-operative.

"We have just made an agreement with the unions to increase overtime to allow more slaughtering to take place, and we are already supplying extra pork throughout the island," he said. "Admittedly, the hot weather is going against us where rearing is concerned. But I estimate that by September, we will be meeting demand for pork."

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt