AUSTRALIAN pork producers face stiff competition from overseas counterparts, with many beating on the door, asking for the rules on fresh meat imports to be relaxed.
But the recent hepatitis scare from imported Chinese berries has highlighted overseas product issues and supported the industry's argument to maintain import restrictions.
Pork SA chairman Matthew Starick said if the rules were relaxed, it would have a effect on the industry similar to the downturn in 2007, when pork prices dropped and grain prices spiked.
"The immediate effect would be that people would leave the industry because they couldn't compete with imports, the secondary effect would be that people would leave due to diseases coming in," he said.
But, Australian Pork Limited's general manager of research and innovation Darryl D'Souza said a number of overseas markets were keen to get fresh product into Australia, in particular the European Union.
Russia closed its market to the EU at the end of January, 2014.
It based its decision on four isolated cases of African swine fever detected in wild boar at the Lithuanian and Polish borders with Belarus.
"There's been significant trade disruptions by Russia banning all EU pork," Dr D'Souza said.
"About 25 per cent of the EU's pork went to Russia.
"Denmark is also looking for higher value markets.
"America is focusing on our markets, they even have a lobbyist based in Canberra. They are already using the example of New Zealand letting fresh pork into their market."
Pork CRC chief executive officer Roger Campbell said the US would be a formidable opponent if Australian producers were forced to compete with them in the fresh pork market.
"In the US, the per capita pork consumption is not much higher than in Australia," he said.
"They produce a lot of pigs, but they don't eat much more pork than we do."
At the moment, the US is producing 112 million pigs annually.
"The US is the lowest cost producer in the world," Dr Campbell said.
"No one else can put pork on the international market at the same price.
"Their input and overhead costs are also much lower than Australia."
The US is the biggest exporter of pigs globally, at 27m a year.
Dr Campbell said the US had many more advantages.
"They have low feed costs, heavier carcaseweights - averaging 98kg, their sow and progeny sites are separated to assist with disease control, they have large and efficient abattoirs, excellent genetics and unlimited access to global genetics," he said.
"They also have good technical and extension people and great training of people for industry positions.
"They have seen a marked and rapid improvement in sow reproduction, and are averaging 25 pigs weaned a mated sow a year. Many are at 30 pigs weaned/mated sow/year."
Dr Campbell said some of the ways they had made "great gains" were through the use of genomics in dam lines and the rapid uptake of post-cervical artificial insemination.
The majority of US pork was also moisture infused for improved eating quality.
"The US is also very competitive and continually seeking a competitive advantage," he said.
"But, they are a much more volatile industry than ours at the moment, they are reliant on export markets to keep prices up."
Australian Pork Limited chief executive officer Andrew Spencer said one way to try and ensure the rules did not change was to make sure the local fresh pork market was well supplied by the nation's producers.
"We've got to increase production by about 1.7pc each year," he said.
- PAULA THOMPSON
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