Pig farmers angry at Government attitude

ByPeter Crichton

BELEAGUERED pig farmers are furious with the Governments response to the recent findings of a House of Commons report on the UK pig industry.

The publication of the House of Commons Select Committee report on Agriculture expressed concern over the power of the supermarkets and their ability to influence market conditions and dictate contractual conditions to their suppliers.

But responding to the report the Government rejected nearly all of the committees recommendations and claimed that it was unable to help producers.

In contrast to this response agriculture Minister Nick Brown had announced at the London NFU conference in February that farmers were entitled to a “fair deal” from their buyers.

This would include an agreed code of conduct which would include linkage to the realisation that producers have got to get a return over and above their production costs.

UK producers had pointed out that unless the major buyers are prepared to consider cost of production based contracts along the lines of the Dalehead Foods/Waitrose scheme the industry will continue to shrink.

The committee also focussed on the 400% plus farmgate to retail price gap which compares with 260% in 1997 and the need for retailers to support industry efforts to improve animal welfare standards.

This support would be to direct their buyers not to source supplies that do not match up to high UK standards.

Another aspect included in the report was a recommendation that the Government should monitor all commitments made by British retail Consortium members on welfare, sourcing, origin and labelling of UK pigmeat.

It was also recommended that this scrutiny would also extend to all bacon, ham and processed products rather than just to fresh pork.

With little response from the Government on the recommendations of the report beleaguered pig farmers will now have to look to the findings of the prospective Monopolies and Mergers Commission investigation that supermarkets now face to save their industry.

The nine-month enquiry by the Office of Fair trading which recently ended is thought to have found evidence that the dominance of the big retailers is distorting the market.

But this investigation is likely to be lengthy and with pig producers operating at a loss since the summer many wonder whether their industry will be about to see the results.

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