22 June 2000
NPA woos grassroots pig men

By Alistair Driver

THE National Pig Association is to try and win back grassroots support lost because of its refusal to back pig farmers in their recent court case against MAFF.

NPA leaders have told pig producers unhappy with their performance to elect the people they want in open elections in the autumn.

On Wednesday the association announced it wants to state its “clear support for the arguments put forward in the action” brought by the British Pig Industry Support Group.

Previously the NPA had deliberately distanced itself from the judicial review into alleged discrimination against the industry by MAFF.

This has angered many pig producers, who felt it showed a lack of industry unity and jeopardised the action, although the NPA did submit a letter of support to the case.

Grassroots disenchantment came to a head when the NPA board failed to appear on the opening day of the court case in London on 7 June and appeared only briefly on the second day.

NPA chief executive Mike Sheldon admitted that this stance had cost the group support and affected membership, but insisted the NPA had no other option.

The NPA could not afford to jeopardise ongoing talks it has been having with MAFF about making an application to the EU Commission for state aid, he said.

The court case centred on the ministrys failure to apply for state aid to compensate producers for the cost of BSE-related legislation.

“These talks could not have continued if the NPA had put its name to legal action,” said Mr Sheldon.

But now the court case is over the NPA is free to support BPISG “whatever the outcome”.

If BPISG wins and MAFF is obliged to make a formal application for state aid the NPA will help ensure it is viable and has the best chance of success, he said.

He hoped this change of heart will help NPA recruit more farmers and encouraged them to get involved in open elections to the NPA producer group in the autumn.

“Farmers have voiced concerns about the leadership but now they have got the chance to elect the people they want to run the organisation and formulate policy,” he said.

The NPA now represents around half of the UKs pig producers, a figure that would have been higher if the NPA had backed the court case, according to Mr Sheldon.

“The problem has been that the message about why we did not support the case has not got across to farmers who believe we have let the industry down,” he said.

BPISG treasurer Meryl Ward, who instigated the judicial review, greeted the NPAs announcement with some cynicism.

“Actions speak louder than words. I look forward to hearing how the NPA will be assisting us,” she said.

While she understood the NPA could not give official backing to the case, Ms Ward felt it could have helped behind the scenes with administration and funding.

The BPISG raised over 120,000 to fund it and Mrs Ward has had to guarantee MAFF it can pay 60,000 in costs if BPISG loses the case.

Judge Richards is expected to make his decision within a fortnight.