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Journey through the maze of the pork market

From the end of summer 2021 to mid-February 2022, the free magazines of the major retail chains multiplied promotions on fresh pork. The pork chop was often sold off at €1.99 per kilo, while the quotation for a kilo of carcass from the same slaughtered and eviscerated pig was between €1.20 and €1.25 on the Plérin clock market. The pork roulade, a kind of fresh ham ready to roast in the oven, cost less than 3€ per kilo and other appetizing cuts were also very cheap.

To understand the origin of these prices sold off from the summer of 2021 to February 2022, it is necessary to examine the consequences of the globalization of trade on prices. Before the summer of 2021, China imported a lot of pork from member countries of the European Union. These imports followed the massive slaughter carried out on Chinese livestock in 2019 and 2020 to eradicate African swine fever which had hit farms hard. Having fully rebuilt its herd by mid-2021 with a 28.8% year-over-year increase in pigmeat production, China reduced its imports by 29%. As a result, the price per kilo of carcass fell below €1.25 in September in Plérin after having exceeded €1.50 between May and August.

And suddenly, a rise in prices at Plérin

With the decline in Chinese imports, intra-European competition suddenly became fiercer between the main exporting countries, which are Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Poland, France and Belgium. In the slaughterhouses of these countries, stocks of fresh meat increased over the weeks and sales at a loss were preferable to freezing since the supply was going to be permanently higher than the demand. In Leclerc stores in Île-de-France, promotions on pork were very numerous and highlighted on several pages in two brochures per month on average. We imagine that these promotions favored “smart purchases”, including for freezing, in households that could afford it, which is hardly the case for all those whose ends of the month are difficult to make.

But now the price per kilo of pork carcass went from €1.24 on January 21 to €1.52 at Plérin on March 21 to reach €1.68 to €1.69 at the end of April. From March 11, this same pork butcher was priced at €1.90 in Germany compared to €1.25 at the beginning of February. Two causes combine to explain this significant increase in the price of pork after having been excessively low to the point of causing French breeders to lose €30 per fattened pig. The latter then sold breeding sows with the sole aim of limiting the loss of income by reducing the herds of fattening piglets. As a result, the numbers of slaughter pigs and mother sows fell by 3.4% and 3.8% respectively in the member countries of the European Union.

At the same time, challenged by the unions of breeders in difficulty, the governments of several European countries ended up obtaining from the European Commission that it finance a campaign of private storage of pigmeat which was set up from March 25 to 29 april. As of April 6, 22,426 tonnes of pork meat had been withdrawn from the market. 16,629 tons of this meat came from Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark, which have the particularity of feeding their pigs with imported food, including a lot of soybeans from South America and corn from different countries, which significantly increases the balance sheet carbon from pig farms in these countries.

The Chassaigne law, the only positive measure of the five-year term

In France, there are many pig farms in the Brittany and Pays de la Loire regions. “Given the surge in cereal prices, the cost of production for breeders will reach €2 per kilo in the coming weeks”, indicated the breeders’ unions of the FNSEA and the Young Farmers of these two regions on May 4. latest. We then remember that President Macron made the following promise to farmers on October 11, 2017 at Rungis: “We will modify the law to reverse this construction of the price which must be able to start from production costs”. A first Egalim law was passed in 2018 to, supposedly, make this promise a reality. But it was without result, to the point that a second law called Egalim 2 was voted in autumn 2021. Because we were a few months away from the presidential election of April 2022 and the legislative elections of June. This second law only gave poor results in the annual negotiations between distributors and their suppliers on prices. To the point that we are currently trying to renegotiate, without success for the moment.

Finally, during the five-year term that is ending in the National Assembly, only two pieces of legislation were favorable to the peasants. They were presented and defended by the communist deputy André Chassaigne on the improvement of pensions for farm managers, then collaborating spouses and family helpers. Both were able to be voted on at the end of 2021. A farmer, retired since 2002, told us that his pension had gone from €854 monthly in 2021 to €1,034 in 2022 thanks to these two texts, i.e. more 20% increase. It is good to remember this as the legislative elections of 12 and 19 June approach.