Consumer demands have radically changed in recent years. More and more people want to
buy meat which is not only tender, delicious, hygienic, and - most importantly! - free
of antibiotics and hormones, but which was also produced in compliance with animal welfare
needs with no adverse effects on the environment. The production of tender pork and beef
requires clearly-defined breeding programmes driven by marketing strategies that will
enable farmers to deliver the products the market demands at a profit. At the same
time, a permanent and reliable supply and delivery system is needed between the various
stages of production involved in breeding and fattening, and between farmers, their
suppliers, and the slaughter houses, thus creating a vertical communication network.
For this is the only way to improve health and hygiene, reduce infectious disease and
increase profitability at all stages of the production and distribution system.
This interdependence has been amply documented in scientific studies and demonstrated
in practice in other countries. It has been widely publicised in Germany for years, so
that most farmers are aware of this. Nevertheless many German farmers, unlike their
counterparts in other European countries, have been unwilling to commit themselves
to such a vertical network. Traditional attitudes and working methods, and a not
inconsiderable excess slaughter capacity, have made it easy for farmers to "gamble" week by
week in hopes of finding what appears to be the best daily price for their slaughter
animals, and switching buyers frequently. Premium-Fleisch AG, a consortium of over 4000
participating farmers, has demonstrated without a doubt that what matters most is not
the highest daily price, but the marginal return per pig. And this is a factor that varies
by as much as 40 DM per pig between enterprises with healthy animals and those with
problematic ones. This is what has convinced all participating farmers in our Premium-Fleisch
AG consortium that there is a close relationship between animal welfare, animal health,
slaughterhouse meat inspection findings, expert advice and optimal breeding and sales results,
and that all these factors play a role in securing long-term success at all levels of the system.
At present more than half of our total of 1.5 million slaughter pigs are produced in
accordance with the guidelines of only two breeding programmes (BHZP and PIG), which
fulfil the criteria of the CMA seal guaranteeing "German Meat of Proven Quality from
Controlled Production". All participating producers are also shareholders in Premium-Fleisch AG.
Despite the additional costs of the programme, their marginal return is better by 5 DM per
animal than for comparable, non-participating farms. Weaner producers have also
profited from higher prices. And Premium-Fleisch AG has benefited, as well,
and has been in the black for the last four years.
This experience has clearly shown that agricultural animal production
infrastructures cannot be separated from the slaughter and processing industries.
Only where centres of meat production and distribution join with farmers to
develop regional cooperative systems can consumer demand for meat of guaranteed
quality, safety and source be met reliably and on a long-term basis, thus establishing
and maintaining competitiveness at the regional level. For in the European market of
the future, only the best producer/distributor systems will be able to compete for
the business of large food distribution enterprises. To meet this challenge we need
a legal structure that can account for ca. 1 to 1.5 million slaughter pigs and ca.
50,000 head of cattle, and which allows direct participation by farmers, who must
also be able to identify with the system. Clearly, size is essential to survival
in the meat market, but this must be the result of the sum total of highly-productive,
compatible regional organisations cooperating under the auspices of a consortium. Such
an umbrella organisation, however, cannot be forced on farmers. It is therefore
extremely important that all members of such a consortium support and identify with its
goals, for this the key to consumer trust in the value of their products. This is the
only way to safeguard the future of farming enterprises and to maintain the
competitiveness of centres of meat production in the long run.