30 November 2001

NPA HAS PLENTY OF AMBITION

by Robert Davies

THE National Pig Association celebrated its second birthday this October. In its short life, it has achieved a number of coups benefiting producers and has plenty of ambitions for future campaigns.

Perhaps the most visible manifestation of the NPAs activities was its memberships much publicised vigil in Parliament Square last year and the celebrity status won by their mascot, Winnie the Pig.

As eye-catching as this public lobbying was, the really effective work has been done in private. This has involved preparing and presenting the case for government help for an industry in deep crisis, says the associations chief executive Stuart Royston.

"I believe that the NPA has become an effective voice for the industry and has run successful campaigns on many issues," he told staff and office holders during a birthday party at NPA headquarters in Shaftsbury Avenue, London.

Composite set-up

The organisation is a composite of the old NFU Pigs Committee and the policy section of the British Pig Association, the herdbook organisation, which now has a seat on the NPA board. Producer members, including the breeding companies, pay subscriptions based on the number of sows or finishing pigs they run. Non-producers pay a fee to be represented by the NPA. The total annual budget is £450,000.

When the Association was established the pig industry was in meltdown. Market prices were forced down by competition from Continental imports and declining pigmeat consumption, resulting in a large number of producers leaving the industry.

Some areas were also coping with classical swine fever. Foot-and-mouth disease has followed since, costing the industry an estimated £100m.

While markets have improved marginally, end prices still do not cover producers production costs. The strong pound continues to suck in imports, and producers are still quitting.

That is not to say the NPA has been ineffective. The government has been compelled to listen to a body whose 1440 members represent 80% of the UK pig breeding herd and most allied industries.

NPA chairman James Black, who runs 4500 sows and finishes the progeny in Suffolk, is the first to admit the economics of pig farming are still horrendous. Most, if not all, producers are operating at a loss," he says.

"Sadly, I suspect the shake out of producers will continue as F&M movement restrictions are eased and breeding pigs can be sold.

"But we would be in a much worse situation without the NPA, which has had a very real impact," he adds.

"Our pressure on government and the vigil in London resulted in £66m of funding for the Outgoers and Ongoers schemes and helped initiate the Animal Welfare Disposal Scheme. Our representations also accelerated the partial lifting of the pig export ban."

Mr Black also claims lobbying contributed to progress on the honest labelling of food and that the NPA played a significant role in drafting the British Pig Executives strategy plan.

One of the plans key elements is to improve communication and collaboration between different sectors of the pig industry. Members of the NPAs producer and allied industry groups are working hard to achieve this goal.

Other agencies have co-operated with the NPA in the production of a CD training programme for pig unit managers and regional initiatives to improve pig producers computer skills.

"We have made progress on many issues, but there is still much to do if the British pig industry is to survive and prosper," admits Mr Black.

The Challenges and Opportunities report produced by the NPA paints a picture of ineffective marketing strategies. It reveals a cost base that prevents UK pigmeat competing in commodity markets, a fragmented supply chain, and under investment in the improvement of productivity and efficiency.

The associations proposals to tackle these problems are far reaching and require substantial government backing. It wants to see £60m invested in extending the Ongoers Scheme from two to five years and aid for allied industries, such as feed manufacturers, hit by F&M.

The NPA suggests Ongoers Scheme cash should be paid in advance, rather than in arrears, and finance provided for a zoonosis monitoring programme. They are also campaigning for 100% capital allowances to be made available for 10 years allowing investment in production facilities that cut costs, without increasing overall production capacity.

Mr Black is concerned about the continuing contraction of the industry. But he believes producers should be optimistic about the opportunities that will exist if the efforts of the NPA help ease current problems and the UK industry is allowed to compete on equal terms on all EU markets. &#42

Winnie the pigs introduction to Tara Palmer-Thompkinson created media interest in the plight of pig producers, allowing the NPA to lobby government hard for improvements to benefit the industry.