UK in landmark £50m pork deal with China

Steph McGovern reports from a pig farm in Driffield

The UK has agreed a £50m trade deal to sell British pork to China, the world's biggest market for pig meat.

Much of the pork will be in the form of parts that are popular in China but not with British diners, such as offal and trotters.

"China is the most lucrative grocery market in the world," said Agriculture Minister Jim Paice.

The deal comes after five years of talks, and negotiations over lamb and beef exports may soon follow.

Analysis

Pork is, without a doubt, China's favourite meat. Chinese cuisine varies greatly by region, but almost every province has its own treasured recipe for pork.

In Beijing, the speciality is shredded pork slices in a sweet soy sauce served with green onion in pancakes.

In the central province of Hunan, Mao Zedong's dish of choice was red-cooked pork, presented in a casserole. And here in Hong Kong in south China, no visit would be complete without trying freshly baked barbecued pork buns, oozing with honeyed juices.

Chinese farmers traditionally raised just a few pigs a year, placing them in pigsties next to their outhouses.

Pork, and meat in general, used to be scarce. In the impoverished rural areas, pork was mainly used to flavour vegetables.

But as China's economic growth took off, so did people's taste for pork. Average pork consumption is estimated to have quadrupled over the last 20 years, creating an enormous market for pig farmers inside and outside China.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) recently published a food exports action plan to help the UK's farming, food and drink industry take advantage of China, now the world's second-biggest economy.

"From fashion to food its rapidly expanding middle class has an appetite for Western goods," said Mr Paice, who is in China on a trade mission.

"In particular they are eating more meat, and our top quality producers have got huge opportunities to meet that demand and help our economic recovery."

'Most popular meat'

Chinese consumption of meat is increasing rapidly, yet Chinese supply cannot meet the demand of a rapidly-growing nation that is already the world's most populous.

And the Chinese enjoy eating parts of the so-called fifth quarter of the pig, which goes to waste in the UK and would provide additional revenue for British farmers.

"This is a wonderful achievement and something we have been working towards for several years in close co-operation with Defra and the British embassy in Beijing," said British Pig Executive chairman Stewart Houston.

"Pork is the most popular meat in China and some of the cuts which are less popular here command a premium over there."

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