28 August 1998

Brown sympathy

over pig plight

By Jonathan Riley

FARM minister Nick Brown has pledged to consider the pig industrys potential and tackle the problems facing the sector after hearing a strong representation from farming leaders on Monday.

The delegation was led by NFU president Ben Gill and British Pig Association chairman John Godfrey, and included NFU pigs committee chairman Graham England.

Mr Gill reported that the minister showed an appreciation of the unprecedented pressures on British producers and also accepted that any restoration of a market balance in Europe must not be achieved at the expense of the UK pig industry.

Mr Brown heard that the situation was caused by oversupply, the strong £ and expenditure on meeting higher welfare standards.

"We emphasised how pig farmers are helping themselves through a producer-funded MLC advertising campaign and asked the minister to seek EU funding for the promotion of pigmeat and to examine ways to improve UK marketing," added Mr Gill.

The delegation also urged the minister to encourage central and local public authorities and bodies to source pigmeat with high welfare standards of production, to widen the scope of the present EU export refunds, and support the introduction of private storage aids when appropriate.

Mr England told Mr Brown that the UK pig industry was bleeding to death and that action was needed within days because every producer in the UK was losing money at an unsustainable rate. To drive home the message he used a detailed costing of his own business which has a break-even price of 98p/kg but is taking only 54p/kg – a loss of 44p/kg or £30.67 a pig.

Shadow farm minister Tim Yeo has also warned government that immediate action was essential.

He said better labelling of pigmeat products was needed to emphasise and draw attention to the superior British production standards.

And Mr Yeo added that the government should encourage caterers and retailers to buy imported pigmeat only if it met UK welfare standards.

Compassion in World Farming, the animal welfare campaign group, has backed pig producers and called on retail companies to sell only pigmeat produced on farms not using sow stalls and tethers and to ensure that this policy is adopted for all types of pigmeat whether own label or not.

Both CIWF and the BPA expect to publish results next week of their surveys on supermarket pigmeat buying policies. The Meat and Livestock Commission has also written to all the major retailers and caterers seeking information on sourcing, labelling and production standards.

York pig farmer Stephen White, Bondhill Ash Farm, is so fed up with cheap bacon imports undermining his business that he has decided to appeal to the public for support with a giant message "Eat British" ploughed across his field. Mr White, who farms with his parents, runs an outdoor pig unit, rearing animals for bacon. "I decided to do something dramatic to get the message through to the consumer that unless they buy British we will go out of business," he said.