15 March 2002

LIFECAMPAIGNER

FORBRITISHPIGS

Frances Slade has been

championing the pig

industry for years as

Tessa Gates found out

when she talked to the

national chairman of Ladies

in Pigs at her Oxon farm

THE buildings at Court Farm, Hook Norton, have been empty of pigs since 1995, but Frances Slade is as enthusiastic about promoting British pigmeat today as she was when she bred pedigree Welsh Blacks.

"I have always farmed in partnership with my husband but the pigs were my babies," she says. "We showed a lot and sold breeding stock abroad. I have always been involved with the British Pig Association (BPA) and I am still a vice-president."

It was as a mole for the BPA that Frances first got involved with Ladies in Pigs (LIPS). "I was sent in to keep an eye on what was going on," she recalls.

LIPS was started in 1991 by farming women who had been on a pig fact-finding mission to Europe with their spouses. On the way home talk was of how well pigmeat was promoted abroad and that more should be done at home. The women were challenged to do something about it themselves, so LIPS was born.

"In 1993 LIPS was regularised and a constitution drawn up. Chris Glossop agreed to be chairman – but only for a year – and asked me to be deputy," says Frances. "I said no, but when my husband Richard said I was being a fool for not taking the position.

"At the time we were thinking of handing over the pigs to our son Mike – as Richard pointed out, the future of the industry was important to us."

&#42 Chairmans job

From a reluctant deputy to chairman within the year, Frances has chaired LIPS ever since. "Its not that I wont stand down, its because no one else seems to want to take it on.

I seem to have the time. A lot of members have young children or have to work on the farm," says Frances, adding that the 81ha (200 acre) farm is now all arable.

"I am the only paid member of LIPS. It is less than a salary but it does make it worthwhile giving it all my time. If I didnt enjoy it I wouldnt do it for the money."

Frances is a familiar face at shows throughout the country. With fellow LIPS members, all resplendent in red sweatshirts and straw boaters, she cooks up tasty pork recipes for the public to try in the mobile kitchen that has made such a great difference to LIPS presence at shows.

"We are there to raise the profile of British pork. When we are cooking we tell the audience that we are not professional chefs, we are farmers wives. We talk to them about the quality mark and explain our welfare standards.

"I think it needs to be explained to the consumer that not all pork coming into the country comes up to our standards. An imported car has to come up to our standards before being allowed on our roads and so should food."

Labelling is a minefield that misleads the consumer. "A busy mum sees the Union Jack flag and thinks she is buying British bacon. There must be a way of stopping crazy labelling that allows imported food to just be cured or sliced here and then have a Union Jack slapped on it.

"ASDA and the National Pig Association (NPA) ran a trial putting British, Danish and Dutch bacon on sale in separate cabinets. The extra British bacon that was sold was incredible, so much so that I believe they are going to roll out the trial across the country."

&#42 Busy life

LIPS members have a busy life. Lately they have been involved in a four-week promotion with Sainsburys, Frances will be product judging at Meatex Foodex and the LIPS mobile kitchen will be operating at 15 shows between May and the end of September.

When Farmlife called on Frances, her husband had just driven off with the kitchen to an event. "He does all the units servicing and often drives it to venues. Hes has been an honorary LIPS members for years."

The ladies draw a loyal following as well as meeting masses of new people at every show. Regulars come back to get new ideas for using pork and bacon and pick up the latest recipe sheets.

"People still hold old-fashioned ideas about pork, such as only eating it when there is an R in the month – a leftover from pre-refrigeration days," says Frances. "And they cook it at too high a temperature. It should be cooked like lamb – it is quite safe to eat pink but people tend to overcook it."

LIPS demonstrate the quick to cook recipes that the modern consumer tends to want. "People want quick meals and they will taste something we have made and say where can we buy the sauce.

"As an industry we will have to provide fresh product pre-packed with a sauce or similar so people can cook and have it ready to eat in 20 minutes, if we are going to compete with the likes of chicken."

Frances worries that because pork is cheap compared to beef and lamb, it is seen as an everyday meat rather than one for fine dining. "It is a highly under-rated product in this country, yet worldwide it holds the top place for meat consumption.

"We have a really good product and we like to get out there and show people how to cook it," says Frances. "I have fought for the pig industry all my life and as long as there is a pig industry, I shall continue to do so."