23 January 1999
Protesting farmers burn Union Jack
By Vicky Houchin and Johann Tasker
ANGRY farmers burnt a Union Jack flag outside Downing Street this weekend in protest at imports of cut-price pigmeat produced under conditions that are illegal in this country.
The pig farmers claim they are being driven out of business by imported pigmeat which is often produced cheaply with little regard for animal welfare.
About 2000 pig producers and their families marched through London in the largest rural-issue protest the capital has seen since last years Countryside March.
Children marched in front of the largely peaceful procession as it snaked its way along the Embankment and past the Houses of Parliament on Saturday afternoon.
But anger boiled over among some protesters as their leaders delivered a letter begging for help from the Prime Minister to No. 10 Downing Street.
Those towards the front of the crowd cheered as two farmers doused a Union Jack flag in lighter fluid and set it on fire.
“Tony Blair is anti-British hes done nothing for us,” shouted Suffolk pig farmer Chris Agar. “This is the last peaceful march. After this well be even more militant.”
To chants of “Tony Blair, you dont care,” the marchers then continued to Trafalgar Square where they held a rally beneath Nelsons column.
The Reverend Gordon Gatward, the agricultural chaplain for the county of Lincolnshire, called a one minute silence for producers driven out of business by plummeting prices.
The demonstration was organised by the British Pig Industry Support Group (BPISG) and backed by the National Farmers Union.
Stewart Houston, BPISG chairman told the protestors: “We deserve a government which understands us and realises the effort that has gone into what we produce.”
Much imported pigmeat comes from pigs which are tethered in coffin-sized stalls which are banned for animal welfare reasons in Britain.
Foreign pigs are also frequently fed on meat and bone meal a practice which was outlawed here following the BSE crisis.
But European trade laws mean Britain is unable to ban imports of foreign pigmeat and cheap shipments continue to arrive into the country.
The latest government statistics show that the national pig herd has shrunk by 11 percent and could fall by 25 percent within six months.
The farmers claim they have lost £6 million a week since last summer and many continue to lose more than £20 on each pig sold.
They want the government to persuade caterers and supermarkets to buy British pigmeat and only import supplies if they meet British standards.
The farmers claims are backed by animal welfare campaigners.
But producers still have far to go before British pigs are completely welfare friendly, said Peter Stevenson, political and legal director of Compassion in World Farming.
Although Mr Stevenson applauds the banning of sow stalls, he remains critical of practices such as tail-docking and intensive indoor rearing systems.