The next time you have bacon and eggs, you can be 80 per cent certain that the bacon you are eating has been imported. Your meal will consist of a rasher or two of the forecast 149,000 tonnes of pig meat that will arrive on our shores during 2014-15.

Ten years ago we were importing about 75,000 tonnes a year. With a few stumbles along the way that figure has now doubled to 149,000 tonnes or nearly 2,900 tonnes a week—that’s a lot of pig.

Figure 1.

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Australian Pig Meat Imports

Of more interest is that in 2002-3 imported pig meat accounted for 23 per cent of domestic consumption and by 2012-13 it accounted for 49 per cent, nearly half of all the pig meat we consumed.

We do export pork and those exports declined between 2005 and 2012. In 2005 we exported about 43,000 tonnes and in 2015-16 the forecasts are that we will export 28,000 tonnes, so exports are increasing, but not as quickly as imports.  Australian pork is famous for being disease free. We live close to some of the biggest pig meat markets in the world, something must be wrong that we cannot penetrate these markets quicker than we are.

Figure 2

Australian Pig Meat Exports

Australian Pig Meat Exports

Why is this so?

Why is it when Australia grows everything that is needed for a good pig ration we are now reliant on other countries for about 80 per cent of our bacon and ham? One answer may be in two words ‘agricultural subsidies’. A glance at the graph below is better than a thousand words.

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Graph: OECD

As you can see (Figure 1) the overwhelming majority of the pig meat we import doesn’t come from the Developing World where we might expect costs to be less than ours, on the contrary it comes from the United States, Denmark, Netherlands and Canada, Developed countries, who all have generous agricultural subsidies for the growing of grain and the production of pigs. All the pig imported into this country is frozen, we turn it into disease free bacon and ham by processing it. None is sold as pork.

So if you buy pork it will be a 100 per cent Australian product.

It was estimated a few years ago that worldwide, agricultural subsidies amounted to US$1 billion a day and that was before the recent increases announced by China and Indonesia. To all intents and purposes there are no subsidies paid to Australian farmers and they are paid to all of our competitors; see Figure 3.

So when you hear Australian farmers complaining that world trade isn’t a level playing field — that is part of what they are talking about. If we export food of any kind we have to compete with subsidised products from other countries.

Pig meat is a perfect example of how subsidies can distort international trade. Our pig meat imports show quite clearly that producers on the other side of the world can produce pigs, slaughter them and transport them at least 14,000 km and present them ready to be turned into bacon and ham for less than we can produce them at home. Subsidies I suspect, are not the only reason we rely on imported pig meat.

Recently at the Global Food Forum, which I contend is a meeting of Colin’s Street and Pitt Street farmers who believe they are going to solve the problems facing Australian agriculture, this was said by one of the leaders in the Australian beef industry:

Brent Eastwood, the chief executive of the biggest meat processor, JB Swift Australia, said processing costs for boxed beef were between 1½ and three times higher than in competing nations such as New Zealand, the US and Brazil, JB Swift’s home market.

“The labour costs are massive, utility costs, infrastructure costs … red tape, country restrictions. All these things cost, and unfortun­ately in this sector … the farmer ultimately takes the hit for that,’’ Mr Eastwood said.

I wonder if it is the same for pigs? I can’t see that it can be any different, a meat works worker is a meat works worker. So I wonder if the reason we are, realistically losing our pig meat industry to cottage industry proportions, is that we are not competitive, like beef, when it comes to processing? If they are then no wonder we now rely on other countries for our bacon and ham sandwich.

If our quarantine laws were relaxed to allow ‘cheap’ imported pork to be sold it would probably see an end to our pig industry. New Zealand recently relaxed its quarantine laws and is now importing pork from America where diseases like porcine epidemic virus, has killed millions of pigs. The United States is now pestering Australia under the conditions of the Trans Pacific Partnership, to allow pork from the United States into Australia.

Considering the Free Trade Agreement we have with New Zealand we must be constantly vigilant that pork from America does not get into Australia by the back door. Then again, it is the objective of every government to keep the people happy. Watch the people in the supermarket, not one in ten reads the label for country of origin. ‘Cheap’ food from where ever, is worth votes. In the final equation— it’s all about being re-elected.

Here’s a perfect example of a resource going to waste, because governments, federal and state and the bureaucrats they employ cannot be bothered to think outside the square, listen to the people who know and then tackle a major vermin problem in Australia, which with some planning and encouragement could earn hundreds of millions dollars in export income and at the very least help to control what has become a major and ‘declared’ pest.

It’s all a big Boar.

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Photo: Game Meat Processing Pty Ltd

The paradox to this story is that there is a large market, especially in Europe, for wild pig meat. There are more  20 million, recent estimate in spite of the drought 27 million wild pigs in Australia and they cost agriculture more than $100 million a year in the damage they do to crops, pastures and infrastructure. That’s the official line, people I have talked to, again in spite of the drought in Queensland and New South Wales, believe both the wild pig population and the damage they do is seriously underestimated and maybe that $100 million just applies to Queensland, maybe some can let us know.

It’s not as if this is a new problem. I have just read this: https://www.daf.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/67643/IPA-Feral-Pig-Strategy.pdf and words fail me. It was written over a decade ago and it is a graphic example of how governments can identify a problem with all the data in the world, suggest management and control programmes—and as the wild pig numbers now show—fail miserably. It’s probably the same in other states.

It’s hard for me to comprehend that give or take a few million, there are as many feral pigs in Australia as there are people.

CEO Rex Devantier of Game Meat Processors, a Queensland company, recently told the ABC they could export 20,000 wild pig carcases a month, if only they could find the hunters. At their peak they had about 2,500 hunters on their books supplying 69 mobile processing units. Now the number of hunters has dropped to about 1,100 and market demand now exceeds supply.

After reading the ABC article I rang Mr Devantier and he reiterated what he said in the ABC interview and added a few more comments.

Mr Devantier confirmed that his company could sell 200,000 pigs a year. He said there is a big demand for wild pig meat in Europe at present. Some of the biggest markets being in Germany, France and Spain.

Import regulations in Europe only allow carcass meat either bone in or bone out. So the heads have to be discarded and the pigs skinned. Each carcase weighs 40kg dressed, that’s 800 tonnes a month of wild pig from just one processor or somewhere between 8000 and 10000 tonnes of frozen wild pig meat a year just for export and mainly to Europe.

Mr Devantier, as he said to the ABC, believes that the red-tape, especially the cost of over $500 for a hunters licence is a disadvantage. He suggested if it had to be, why not issue a refund after a hunter showed they had harvested a certain number of pigs? Because, after all what we are talking about here is making a business out of vermin control.

Mr Devantier went on to say he was confident the hunters are still out there, the pigs certainly are, perhaps a bounty would encourage people back and then they could see the potential for making a living, just like the kangaroo shooters. Mr Devantier concluded with the hope that with a bit more publicity the hunters would return and a very real potential for wild pig exports could be realised.

I did a web search and it revealed there are markets for wild pig in many parts of Asia where there will be a population explosion in the next twenty years. Who know how big the market is?  And here we are with a wild pig population of at least 20 million and growing and frankly no matter what we have done over recent years has had no effect on the wild pig population.

It’s an industry sitting ‘out there’ waiting to happen. More importantly and staring us in the face it’s export industry and a vermin control programme all in one. Exports help the balance of payments. We can start to offset the cost of imports with exports.

It’s the sort of new industry our governments should be encouraging. Maybe with a bounty for a few years to get it on its feet? I wonder if any of our governments ever think about these things? Probably not. They worry about our balance of payments and try and pretend our food imports are not increasing when they most certainly are.

A wild pig meat industry is not the answer to all our problems but it is a brick in the wall of our defence against cheap subsidised food from overseas.

The world market for wild pig meat is vast and growing, like all markets continuity of supply is most important. If Australia cannot make a business out of harvesting what is now becoming an ever-increasing problem for all of Australian agriculture, then there is every sign that America, especially Texas, will, as they say, step up to the plate.

American authorities claim that wild pigs are causing US$1.5 billion in damage every year and the damage doesn’t stop at the border, the Canadians are now saying they have a similar problem.

The full story on wild pigs in Australia can be found here: http://article.wn.com/view/2013/06/24/Wild_pigs_put_domestic_animals_at_risk/

Wild pigs won’t save our bacon, or will they?

It started during the last government and has continued to this day, there are those who believe or fantasize, that Australia could be the ‘Food Bowl for Asia’. Australia will never be a major exporter of pig meat or any other processed food because we cannot compete on price—simple as that.

This is the reality, our food exports are declining and our imports are increasing, we are not going to be the food bowl for anyone, maybe not even for ourselves:

Figure 4.

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ABS 2014a

Our exports look good on Figure 4. We hear it time and time again that Australia grows enough food to feed so many million more people in the world, figures like 60 million even 80 million are bandied around. What is not mentioned is that the majority of those exports are what I think the government calls minimally transformed. So wheat and barley. Live sheep and cattle. Sheep and cattle meat and so on. The reason that net exports and imports figures are getting closer is because we have exported a great deal of our food processing industry. The other sobering statistic was what came out the other week on this site was that 70% of the ‘processed’ food or what I think the government calls ‘substantially transformed’ is made up of wine, sugar and beef.

The problem of wild pigs is only going to get bigger. The drought may have reduced numbers but now that it has rained again a sow can produce two litters of between six and ten piglets a year.

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NT Govt

If governments got serious and we set about developing an industry with properly trained hunters there is an unlimited resource ‘out there’ waiting to be harvested.

The possibilities are many not the least being in the tourist industry. I’m sure there is many a rich European who would pay big dollars to go pig hunting— just like his or her ancestors have done for hundreds of years.

We will never get rid of all the feral pigs but why not make money out of them while we try?

There another side to this problem apart from the damage pigs are doing to farm infrastructure, eating lambs and other animals and crops. Feral pigs are attacking and eating our endangered fauna. In the Territory an Aboriginal Community wondered why a species of turtle was disappearing. We never hear about these stories in the rest of Australia. You may not want to look at the next picture, but for my money it’s one damn good reason to wage war on feral pigs. It’s not as if it’s going to cost us, if we do it properly, even employ the local community, it will pay. The picture is the inside of a wild pig’s stomach.

We say many Aboriginal Communities lack enterprise, jobs, the ability to earn a wage. Well let us equip and train them to protect what is theirs, so they can hand it on to the next generation, including the turtles.

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Pic: NT Govt

Victorians have another problem. If you read http://www.animalcontrol.com.au/news/2013/20130823-1.htm you will find that to kill feral pigs in Victoria you will have to comply with no less than 17 Acts of Parliament. Perhaps the Minister in Victoria could have a look at that or let the feral pigs continue to destroy native flora and fauna? We love our laws that protect vermin, feral pigs who will soon have a population in this country greater than ours and a vermin that is wrecking our environment with, it would seem, impunity. Probably because some body has said we don’t have the money to do anything about it.

Roger Crook

About 

Over the last fifty years or so Roger has worked in agriculture, since 1967 in Australia. From farm labourer, to station and farm manager, then progressively to a senior management position in agribusiness as the marketing and sales manager of what was at the time the biggest agricultural chemical company in Australia, ICI (Australia- Rural Division), Roger has both a practical farming and comprehensive agribusiness background.
After a brief spell as the marketing director of a big public relations company in Perth, Roger formed his own consultancy specialising in agribusiness communications and the marketing of Australian agricultural intellectual property overseas.
Roger says he will only ever be 'semi retired'. He believes Australian agriculture is at the crossroads so he has set up the 'Global Farmer' as a forum to both pose, debate and hopefully answer some of the challenges being faced by the Australian family farm and so by Australian agriculture.

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