Defra to join pig sector in crisis talks as prices plunge

Defra has agreed to hold crisis talks with the pig sector supply chain as Brexit complications, Covid-19 and African swine fever (ASF) put pressure on prices.  

Figures for the week ending 30 January 2021 show the EU-spec Standard Pig Price (SPP) dropped to 140.5p/kg – down 1.18p/kg compared with the previous seven days.

This puts the measure 22.10p/kg below where it was at the same point last year, according to AHDB Pork.

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The EU-spec All Pigs Price (APP), which has held up better over recent weeks, recorded an even larger fall. For the week ending 23 January 2021, the measure averaged 144.24p/kg – a decline of 3.56p/kg on the week.

Prices are being driven down by a “perfect storm” of factors, according to the National Pig Association (NPA), which has drawn the supply chain together for crisis talks.  

Roundtable talks

The talks, scheduled for Tuesday 9 February, will be chaired by Defra farm minister Victoria Prentis.

The NPA said it would highlight a range of factors causing the prices falls.

It pointed to ASF in Germany, where cases of the disease among wild boar have passed the 600-mark and protection zones have been widened.

German difficulties mean the ongoing trade ban with China and other countries is likely to continue.

That means up to 500,000t of cheap pigmeat, previously destined for export, are now oversupplying the EU market and undermining prices.

EU red tape

Brexit has worsened the price situation, the NPA said.

While UK exporters battle against EU red tape and rejected consignments, an open-door policy for food imports has allowed cheap pigmeat to flood into Britain.

Defra has also had to insist on trichinella testing for UK exports while tests on EU imports have not been put in place.

Covid-19 issues will also be discussed at the crisis talks.

The disease itself and measures to control it mean staffing levels have been cut both here in the UK and the EU.

The pig processing plant at Brechin in Scotland remains closed for a fortnight, which has reduced weekly throughputs.

In Britain, estimated throughput for the week ending 30 January 2021 totalled 170,100 head – down 7% on the previous week and down 5% on the same week last year.

It is the first time this year that estimates have been below 2020 levels, according to the AHDB, which put the drop-off down to coronavirus staffing challenges.

The closures and shortages mean more pigs are being rolled and the NPA has suggested more than 100,000 pigs, ready for slaughter, are being held back on farms.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies welcomed Defra’s agreement to attend the talks.

Dr Davies said she aimed to discuss options available to help the industry and has asked AHDB whether any levy underspend could be used.

Mental health

She also highlighted a worrying trend in pig farmers relating mental health issues at NPA meetings and within regular online surveys.

Those working on pig farms are suffering as a result of the situation.

One prominent producer said his staff were showing real anxiety and were becoming withdrawn, nervous, anxious and in a poor mental state.

The NPA has issued a list of support groups for those in difficulty.

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