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Blogger In Residence @ Irish Executives Network Brendan Palmer is going to the Market February 12, 2014

Posted by pascaldie in Uncategorized.


A City Boy on farming 8: This little piggy went to the market 

More pork meat per capita is consumed on the island of Ireland than any other meat. More than fifty percent of pork meat consumed is in a processed variety, mainly sausages, bacon/rashers and ham.

Domestic consumption in 2012 was 142,000 tonnes. Pig meat imports are estimated at 81,000 tonnes, primarily sourced from the UK and continental Europe.  It would appear that some of the pig meat processed in the UK comes from a USA pig farm conglomerate called “Smithfield” 

There were 3.6 Million Pigs were killed for meat in Ireland in 2012 (Bord Bia Meat and Livestock Review & Outlook 2011/12) 

The reason why pork is the most popular meat is that some of the cuts are very cheap. The question is; why is it so cheap? The answer is, very, very, very intensive factory farming. Basically the pork we eat is derived from fattening pigs with grain, pumping them full of antibiotics to control disease in large indoor warehouses, with no concern for the animals and not much more for the humans who buy and consume this artificially produced meat protein   

Compassion in world farming have produced a video which shows the process


 Since  January  1st 2013, keeping pregnant sows in narrow stalls after the first 4 weeks of pregnancy is forbidden under EU law. Stalls can still be used for the first 4 weeks of pregnancy (see photo, left). Sows kept in stalls are unable to turn around and cannot exercise. The floor they stand or lie on is usually concrete, with slats at the back for waste removal. The sows have to lie down in the same area that they use for the toilet. Most research papers I have come across say this law is widely ignored. Once the piglets are born, the sows are confined in cages, supposedly to prevent them from crushing the young. This claim does not stand up to scrutiny 

Antimicrobial/antibiotic Resistance (AMR)

The biggest issue surrounding large intensive pig farms is the use of antibiotics especially using low doses as a “just in case” preventative method.

Fattening huge numbers of pigs in crowded enclosed (units) causes serious health problems for the pigs. Sick or dead pigs don’t make money for a factory farmer so large quantities of antibiotics are used to maintain the pigs in a condition that allows them to pass slaughter house inspection.  

Recent studies show that approximately 100 tonnes of antibiotics are used across all food producing species annually in Ireland, of which 40%+ relates to usage in the pig industry. (It is quoted as 60% in the UK) 

While antibiotic use is supposed to be controlled by qualified Vets, the reality is that because of the way that pigs are reared, antibiotics are mixed in their food so all the pigs get dosed, whether they need it or not. The only thing that is required is that there is no trace of the antibiotic in the pig carcass at the abattoir. To achieve this, antibiotic use is stopped for a period before the pig is presented for slaughter. (That’s the rules anyway)  

Using a low or sub therapeutic dose is a formula for disaster: the treatment provides just enough antibiotic to kill some but not all bacteria. The germs that survive are typically those that happen to bear genetic mutations for resisting the antibiotic. They then reproduce and exchange genes with other microbial resisters. Because bacteria are found literally everywhere, resistant strains produced in animals eventually find their way into people as well. You could not design a better system for guaranteeing the spread of antibiotic resistance. (American Scientific) 

The Pig Farmers Conference 2013

Extracts from the paper of the conference……

“In Ireland there are currently expert groups working on an inter sectoral national strategy and action plan on AMR. It is expected that targets will be set to reduce the use of ABs in food animals, with a particular focus on use in feed in the pig industry.“ 

“Is there a perception that the industry does not have a problem with AB usage or misuse?” 

“Does Ireland as a country have data regarding the use of ABs in food animals and moreover on a species basis? The truth is we do not have such definitive data” 

All confidence building stuff for those of us who have to eat the meat! 

What about the pigs

Pigs are highly sociable creatures and prosper when living in small, stable groups. They thrive on contact with each other and have a complex language of grunts and squeaks, which scientists say they can interpret. Scientists have even detected regional variations in pigs’ grunts. They sleep together huddled in nests and greet other pigs by rubbing noses much in the way we would shake hands. Pigs are highly co-operative in social groups and show affection by grooming each other. Pigs are the most intelligent of farm animal. Newborn piglets learn to run toward their mother’s voice and sows are known to sing to their young while nursing. 

Contrary to popular belief, pigs are very clean animals and use a toilet area away from their living space. The misunderstanding about pigs being dirty arises because pigs wallow in mud in hot weather to protect their skin from the sun and to keep cool because they do not sweat like humans. 

I come back to the theme running through previous blogs on the subject, as long as we pay farmers by weight of food produced, they will produce food by weight, not by nutritional value. So we get what we pay for. It is also true that, as a long as the consumer doesn’t see or care how the animals that provide our food are treated, their welfare will be way down the list of priorities of factory farm production. 

Free range pig farming if managed properly will be the best place to raise pigs,  but it has its problems, the biggest of which is the amount of land required to provide a truly free range environment, which of course makes the cost prohibitive, except for very specialised production where cost is not really an issue. 

Perhaps the space in between can be taken up by a hybrid, open shed facilities, where the pigs have the space to move around and exercise and play, the opportunity to root and explore, freedom to move, to choose where to lie or sleep, to create toilet area away from living area, to build a soft pliable bed to enable comfortable a lying down surface, to wallow (where mud bath is incorporated into pen design) and freedom from threat of aggression from non family group pig members, etc. It also incorporates protection from adverse weather elements. It is not full free range but it is a long way from overcrowded, antibiotic supported factory farms. http://www.naturalpigfarming.com/npfvfreerange.htm 

The following Video on “The Dark Side of factory Farming” is worth watching. http://www.farmsnotfactories.org/the-dark-side-of-factory-farming/ 

It is nineteen minutes from start to finish, with the following contributors, if you want to dip in.

0-4:55min.      Richard Young, Policy Advisor, UK Soil Association

4:55-5:50,       Mark Enright, Professor of Epidemiology, Imperial College London

5:50-9:30,       Coilin Nunan, Antibiotics advisor, Soils Association speaking to the European                                 Parliament

                        One of his slides shows the following regarding a resistant virus

                        Clostridium Dificile: A new hyper-virulent strain(078) is present in EU pigs, it has now                       become the most common strain in humans in Europe
9:30-13:56,     Michael Green MD, Director, Public health and Animal Agriculture. The Humane                           Society USA

13:56-15:10    Robert Kennedy Jr, Founder and President, Waterkeeper Alliance USA

15:10-             Helen Browning, Food and Farming  Director, UK Soil Association                                 


It would not be feasible nor do we need to go back to being hunters for our own meat but it  surely behoves us to subscribe to the hunters philosophy of respect for the animal that dies so we can live. 

Some quick numbers

Irish Factory Farm gate price for pig meat    €1.50 per Kilo
Supermarket prices per kg (average of big three)
Pork Chop                   €5 – €9
Ham Fillet uncooked  €5

Cooked ham                €23

Rashers                                   €10 – €15

Sausages                     €3 – €5


Oldfarm Free range pig farm in Nenagh Co. Tipperary are quoting a website purchase price of €15 per kilo for mixed packs of bacon, ham, sausages, rashers etc. Min order 4 kg with a delivery charge of €10 

In the next blog, I propose to follow the economic argument for moving back to a less intensive animal farming model. Maybe we could pay a little more for our food and at the same time create some work for the 26.2m EU citizens that were unemployed as of December 2013


About Brendan Palmer

Brendan Palmer, CEO of Electronic Recycling and DravTec Ireland



1. Pat - February 12, 2014

That’s it, no more ham sambo’s for lunch! (makes me wonder about the meaning ‘Pig ignorant’)

Thanks for sharing this Brendan

2. Lisa - February 12, 2014

Well done for inspiring development of this area of farming. The solution proposed above is not only much better than the factory alternative for the pigs, it can also have health benefits for the people eating the meat and it makes it more enjoyable to eat with a good conscience.

3. alanmjordan - February 12, 2014

A cogent argument as always Brendan, captured by your line: ” as long as we pay farmers by weight of food produced, they will produce food by weight, not by nutritional value”

The more you dig into this area the more you realsie that if the planet is still here in 200 years they will look back on this socierty and consdier it barbaric.

You know Gaye Godkin and it appears that she is ploughing a lone furrow on nutrition.

“According to the World Health Organisation and
the Irish Medical Organisation, chronic illness
accounts for 70% of GP and hospital visits
The Irish diet is not good. Now more than ever we
understand and appreciate the direct association
between nutrition and ill health. Many food choices we
make on a daily basis are making us ill.”

Keep the flag flying Brendan

4. John Roche - February 12, 2014

Smithfield was bought by a large Chinese conglomerate in September 2013

5. Gaye Godkin Nutrition - February 13, 2014

Gaye Godkin Nutrition.

The reason they need so many antibiotics is they are physiologically the nearest animal to a human being and highly susceptible to infections. Hence the swine flu. Furthermore, GM foods are fed to them. Traditionally pigs lived outside, this is no longer possible because they have lost the ability to grow hair to keep them warm due to high breeding. I am also very concerned about their fatty acid profile and it’s clear relationship to inflammation. Parma ham is a different piggy altogether.

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