This Little Piggy Went To Market.

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.

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.

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.

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: 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:

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.

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.

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.

Pic: NT Govt

Victorians have another problem. If you read 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.

9 thoughts on “This Little Piggy Went To Market.”

  1. Interesting idea, Roger.

    I actually want to see more local produce being processed and exported. This seems like a prime opportunity, without the problems associated with Kangaroo meat.

    I seem to remember feral animals were quite often exported in the past. The example I’m thinking of is goats from station country. That was live export and I don’t know where that stands. If we were to do chilled carcass export of feral animals (pigs, goats, buffalo, etc) then suddenly our farmed live export could more easily transition to chilled carcass markets.

    1. Tyson, the CEO of the company I spoke to and who is quoted in the article told me his company is exporting Kangaroo meat all over the world.
      Goats? Haven’t heard much about them for ages. I know MAS used to air freight live feral goats to Malaysia and there was an abattoir in Geraldton, which processed goats and they had supply problems.
      There is no doubt there are markets for all the animals you mention, what is needed is the incentive to do it and this inevitably means some entrepreneurial government involvement at the production or harvesting end, the problem is that proposition is probably an oxymoron.
      One example I can give of the sort of government involvement that may be required happened in Canada. I can’t remember whether it was the Federal or a Provincial government, whichever, recognizing the vagaries of the canola market the government guaranteed, stood behind a new canola crushing plant venture for I think the first five years, so in effect they guaranteed they wouldn’t go broke, the shareholders, some of whom were growers wouldn’t do their dough and they would be able to ride out any problems with security.
      Right off topic but Canada crushes over 60% of its canola crop, then probably feeds the canola meal to the pig that it send to Australia.
      Feral pig meat must be frozen for export and I think that applies to other wild game.

    2. There’s no great conspiracy here Roger…it’s simple economics and market forces. Talking about ‘demand’ is meaningless unless you’re prepared to talk about the prices that the ‘demand’ is prepared to pay…and that’s where wild harvest often becomes uneconomic once all costs are taken into account. It’s why we have a thriving feral goat harvest industry, but a challenged roo and pig harvest industry.

      1. Robert,
        There may be a glitch in the system, but I can’t find anything to do with a conspiracy in what Tyson wrote.
        I am sure that if I had asked the current exporter of wild pig meat what he was getting for it he would have told me to mind my own business. I assumed that because he claimed he had a market which he couldn’t meet because of a shortage of pigs due to a shortage of shooters, that he was in the business for profit not for some altruistic reason. Again, where is the conspiracy?
        I agree as far as goats are concerned. You must be better informed than me. I heard the other day there is a shortage of feral goats which is causing some anguish in the goat processing industry. I know one goat processor closed down in WA due to shortage of supply. Have we over farmed/exploited the feral goat? Perhaps someone can tell us? If you go to you might be surprised at the price here in Australia. It’s the law of supply and demand no more and no less. Econ 101.

    3. Hi Roger – I was actually commenting on what you, rather than Tyson, wrote. We seem to be agreeing that there’s no conspiracy; rather, simple economics. The reason the exporter can’t get enough pigs is because he can’t afford to pay high enough prices to make it worth the time of pig trappers and shooters to take a pig to one of the few chiller boxes left around the place. Pointing me to a link of high prices for gourmet game meat products is kind of irrelevant – they are niche markets using a very small amount of product. Effective pest population management would require massive commercial offtake driven by bulk exports.

      The situation is different for feral goats where the prices paid to suppliers makes it well worth the time to muster and transport them – due to the bulk export market, rather than domestic niche industries.

      1. Robert,
        Seems to me you are drawing your conclusion from your assumption. In other words proving your hypothesis without the fact, or research to back it up. Unless you can show that your claims are true, that is that it is uneconomic for hunters to meet what I have been told are the demands of the marketplace, then there is no discussion apart from the validity of your hypothesis.
        As for your rather dismissive reference to wild pig meat prices in Australia, with respect, you miss the point. There are about 400 million people in the EU. I am sure you know how many there are in Australia, not even one tenth of that number. So I can argue that Australia provides some evidence of the value of wild pig meat. If you have ever been to Europe, you will be aware of the diversity, the range of meats available in that market, which we do not see here in Australia, at least not to the same extent.Incidentally, I would be interested to know where you get the information that the local market is a niche market and is therefore unrepresentative of prices available elsewhere.
        To compare goat mustering with shooting, trapping, harvesting wild pigs is a bit far fetched.
        Lastly, 20 million plus wild or feral pigs in Australia. Question, considering the threat they pose to the livestock industry, cattle sheep, pigs, goats, is the feral pig industry worthy of some attention by government and the population in general? If foot and mouth disease got into the country it would become endemic.

  2. There have been a number of comments, which have been sent to me by email:

    Huge industry potential, with the added benefit of aiding producers to keep feed in their paddocks for cattle and sheep.
    Brett Stone.

    G’day Roger,

    Interesting. I seem to remember that there was a wild animal hunting business up north somewhere some time ago – not sure what happened to it?? Wild goats and even camels have an export market. Perhaps our govt. who seems to have found a renewed interest in ‘developing the north’ (sound familiar?) will put in some $$$’s?
    Problem could be that no commercial operation will ever kill off all its income so the feral problem will continue….
    I replied:
    Reading the history it really is a sad tale. There have been and are sporadic culling programmes, shooting from helicopters, poisoning, organised government shoots, yet eventually they run out of money and little pigs being what they are, grow into big pigs and then the sows can have two litters a year and all the work is undone in no time. One person I spoke to put the population at 25 million and growing very fast in the north east and doing enormous damage.

    The big pig populations are in the north mainly in the east, but I remember in the Kimberley that the pigs would clean up a dead beast in no time. We uses to shoot donkeys, now with Operation Jacob (I think it was called) they have eliminated the donkeys but I’ll bet the pigs had a good feed in the process.

    I am of the view that particularly an aboriginal training programme to produce knowledgeable and well trained pig hunters would be a great project. It would have the added benefit that they would be protecting ‘country’ which is high on their list of objectives.

    Pigs arse it will happen!!!!!!!

  3. We should also be discussing other ” pests ” we could use to add value for all and to the economy . Kangaroos are in plague proportions in Qld ( other states ? ) . I suspect emus could be another example . Professor Graham Webb in his recent book ( ” The Belly of the Beast ” ) puts the case that the best way to conserve something is to create value for it . If it is a pest , it is treated as such and all it does is ” cost ” . How many roos and emus ( and other wildlife pests ) are shot and left to die with no value created . There are markets for protein all over the world with supplies available here but we are not capturing this potential value . What are the barriers ? Is impractical legislation restricting these potential markets with win /win outcomes? Are we not allowed to eat our coat of arms? As one British ecologist said , the solution to deer overgrazing forests is simple , “eat Bambi” . Blunt but objective and practical . All animal populations need to be managed to be sustainable , if not by a predator , then by mankind
    Professor Webb gives several examples of bio politics where some animals are in no danger of extinction but for dubious and questionable political reasons remain on the endangered list . This inhibits any progress to develop a program for a sustainable , viable , and valued population
    Abbot as part of his drought package talks of “shovel ready ” projects . I will bet that the “gun ready ” kangaroo ( and wild pig ) industry where ALL the infrastructure is already in place will not be encouraged or even considered
    Professor Webb gives the example of our wildlife ( cockatoos etc ) being unable to be exported leaving overseas operators able to exploit and monopolise the market with no income returning to the country which “owns ” them . As Ben Rees would probably say policy failure again !
    One group of places for sale in Western Qld claims a 30% increase in carrying capacity from exclusion fencing . Tell me roos are not impacting on the precarious bottom line of graziers and need to be managed much much better . I do not object to the presence of kangaroos , I just have far far too many and think leaving them to die in the paddock is a criminal waste
    Charles Nason

  4. Roos are like a mafioso taking 30% of one’s gross potential per year. Feral and “Exclusion Fencing” is the answer but is very expensive and a real buzz topic at present. Record numbers of goats have been exported inboxes but like all the rural raw material- has been pushed TOO hard. Charleville goat works up the road has killed 3000 per day for years but the drought has broken the prolific breeding cycle. Same with dead roos from the drought . We needed the pigs to clean up all the rotting carcasses. The severity of this three and a half year dry spell is YET to be felt on every processor.
    The local goatworks is back to 3 days a week – the roo exporter went broke because the Russians couldn’t pay. Packs of feral dogs have wiped out 75% of the wool industry in QLD. Every western town is full of unemployed young ex roo shooters and piggers and I see major social issues ahead!( think ice??)
    Roger your pig processor only has to PAY a bit more and these people will find the pigs.The goat price doubled when we weren’t all knocking their front door down. As for Mr Eastwood – nice bloke -met him for 3 hrs last year –

    “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.”

    What he didn’t say is that it cost him nothing to Kill his stock as the GIVEN in by products -hide offal trim that they don’t pay for -more than covers their killing costs Proof of this is that JBS global DOUBLED (+119%)their net profit in 2014 and they paid cash $1.45B to buy out Primo here in same year! ACCC didn’t even blink wtf!
    Also – he didn’t mention that US cattle breeders are getting $2300 aud equiv for a 400kg feeder steer. We had 2 yrs on $500 and now only just come up to $1K this year and the press is having orgasms for us. Try going 3 yrs with nothing………………………….This is the run down of resources- staff money energy ambition maintenance that is palpable everywhere . I am in the stronger 5% and I have been is shut down survival mode BUT a gross taxable income less than the dole is better than a hell of a lot of others. Joyce flies over us every day at 40000 ft mouthing huge figures of smoke and mirrors snake oil. I only know of 1 of the 4800 nationally that are getting the food on the table cheque from the feds. This is less than the parliamentarians daily meal allowance of $160/day……………….
    Rant over lol!

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