31 July 1998
Producers lobby MPs as pig price plummets

By Allan Wright and Jonathan Riley

PIG producers travelled from across the UK to lobby MPs before a parliamentary debate on the current crisis in the sector on Wednesday (29 July).

With this weeks spot prices at 55p/kg – down 40p/kg on the same week last year – about 70 farmers and NFU officials pressed MPs to take action over the effects of the strong Pound. And they emerged from the House of Commons in a slightly more optimistic mood.

Vice-chairman of the unions pigs committee, Nigel Rowe, said the delegation had been told there was to be an announcement – which came on Thursday from Brussels – on export refunds.

These would be paid to boost exports of pigmeat out of the EU which, hopefully, would lead to the Dutch and Danes turning their sights on Third countries rather than flooding the UK market.

Mr Rowe added that he was encouraged by the new farm minister Nick Browns attitude, because he seemed keen to talk to farmers, and with junior minister Elliot Morleys announcement that the government intended to meet retailers and caterers to urge them to take a more positive line with the British product.

But, despite the glimmer of optimism, there will be about 60,000 pigs left unsold at the end of this week. And numbers are backing up on farms, creating welfare as well as financial worries. The deepening crisis drew 200 – two thirds of Scottish pig farmers – to a meeting in Perth on Tuesday night. But it failed to offer any short-term comfort with the message that prices could continue to drop until increased slaughterings and import substitution cleared the market.

A plan for a slaughter and compensation scheme for pregnant sows had been turned down by Government, reported Arthur Simmers, representing the British Pig Association.

“They said that there was no parliamentary time to introduce a statutory levy. But something must be done; there are now severe welfare implications with pigs stacking up on farms,” Mr Simmers said.

He supported a call from the floor for a single levy on every pig to fund one body to represent the industry. Scottish NFU pigs convenor Andrew Peddie said confidential discussions on that subject were under way.

Many at the meeting rounded on supermarkets, blaming them for abandoning British pigmeat in favour of cheap imports. But Grant Mackie, managing director of Grampian Country Pork, said the multiples were “fabulous customers”. He also opposed a cull or private storage aids because both bucked the market.