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The birth of BPEX: Breaking free of the MLC chains

NPA history

NPA was formed as the British pig industry's single voice in a turbulent era of market failure, rampant disease, retailer duplicity, political infamy and a dysfunctional levy-board. It had a faltering first year, but these days a top-flight management team is in place and NPA continues to change the face of the British pig industry for the better.


'Source British for value, or you can whistle for your council tax'

Press report, 1999

The Ministry of Agriculture has always insisted it has no power to insist Government caterers purchase to a particular specification.

However, in its response to the Agriculture Select Committee's report on the pig industry, it has said public authorities are obliged to: "Obtain value for money in any purchases they make and that quality assured and welfare-friendly production practices play a part in any value for money criteria and should be referred to in the specification when procurement authorities are purchasing pigmeat products".

In the light of this statement, one BPISG member has said he will withhold his council tax unless his local council gives a value-for-money commitment to source the British specification, a sentiment agreed by the group leadership.

"This carefully worded statement opens the way for BPISG, NFU and BPA to ask ministers, councillors and hospital chiefs: 'Are you providing value or money, as required by law, and if not, why not?'" said BPISG's Digby Scott.

Retailers wriggling out of their commitments

Press report, 1999


"Government must ask all the leading supermarkets to give a clear written commitment to the British-specification," said BPISG chairman Stewart Houston.

He also wants a commitment that supermarkets will refuse to stock
branded products which fail to comply with the British-spec.

This follows "strong evidence" that some retailers are shifting emphasis from own-label bacon to branded bacon in order to "wriggle out" out of commitments they had made.







This multispecies
approach is
and outdated'

By Alistair Driver
Farmers Guardian, 1999

The pig industry should go it alone, it is not well-served by the multi-species structure of the Meat and Livestock Commission and would do better if were driven forward by a leaner, meaner body dedicated entirely to pigs.

This is the main conclusion of a report compiled by Dr John Strak, of Cambridgeshire consultancy firm Euro PA, which the British Pig Industry Support Group and other industry bodies are currently using in negotiations with the MLC over its future role in industry affairs.

The report was commissioned by BPISG, the NFU and the British Pig Association, which wanted Dr Strak to investigate the appropriateness of existing industry structures, and particularly the role of the MLC.

"The pig industry needs a radical overhaul of its industry structures," Dr Strak told allied industry members. "The pig sector pays about £14 million in levies, which is more than any of the individual United Kingdom farm sectors, but it does not get value for money."

He described the multispecies approach of the MLC as "inappropriate and outdated" and concluded it results in "a conflict of interest, a lack of focus and a lack of transparency".

These problems could be overcome by expanding the powers of the Pig Strategy Council to give it total autonomy over pig levies and strategy and its own staff dedicated entirely to pigs — although
it would still be within the umbrella of the MLC.

But if the desired level of autonomy cannot be achieved within the MLC, Dr Strak recommended the industry considers completely severing its ties with the commission, although primary legislation would be required to achieve this.

"There is no convincing rationale for pigs and pigmeat to be part of the multispecies approach."

He said consumption of pigmeat in the United Kingdom has been "abysmal" in comparison with other European countries and has also suffered in comparison with the poultry industry, which has shown a greater ability to adapt to a changing market.

"If the pig industry does not wake up, the poultry industry will run away with the market. To be competitive the industry needs to address the key drivers that affect it, and recognise market signals."

He said there are five key drivers the industry should be aware of:

  • The pigmeat market is becoming increasingly globalised, which means greater price variation and risk.

  • Consumer tastes are changing as lifestyles change, with more people eating out and an increasing preference for convenience and health.

  • Market power for producers comes through operating on a bigger scale — either through integration or co-operation. The Dutch, Danish and United States models need to be studied closely.

  • Regulation covering the likes of welfare, food safety and the environment are a fact of life and should not be dealt with by crisis management. That means better communication with legislators.

  • Technological gain on the farm and in the laboratory should be turned into marker gains.

A new dedicated body will be better able to deal with these drivers and to make the industry more competitive. It would need good access to market information, a strong research and development arm and effective marketing, which should be independently monitored.

What influence the report will have on negotiations over future industry structure remains to be seen. But Dr Strak is convinced it has already had an impact on the content of the Government's five-yearly review of the MLC, which will also play a major part in negotiations.

"The MLC review proposals for more autonomy of the strategy councils, independent analysis of marketing and promotion and phasing out of promotion councils were all in Euro PA's report," he said.


We're just days away
from extinction

Press report
Summer, 1999

A leading London venue will be on the hit list today when angry pig farmers from Yorkshire and East Anglia hold their biggest demonstration to date over the financial collapse of their industry.

Two coach loads of farmers, who have been handpicked for the operation because of their experience in "confrontational situations", will travel to London in the early hours to take part in the top-secret mission.

Even the farmers themselves do not know exactly where the protest is being held against "commercial and political policies that are driving them to the wall", except that they will be heading for somewhere in central London.

A spokeswoman for the British Pig Industry Support Group, Meryl Ward, said: "Pig farmers are now absolutely desperate and many are counting the days to their extinction. It is essential they get to everyone who can influence the current prices. This will be one of the most important demonstrations farmers have made in their ten-month campaign. As usual we are hoping to stay within the law."

Breaking free of
the MLC chains

Farmers' Guardian leader, May 1999

The cat's out of the bag. For several weeks now the pig industry has been sitting on-a report which says that the multi-species approach to meat promotion is inappropriate and outdated and that the pig sector should break free of the Meat and Livestock Commission.

The report — commissioned by the British Pig Industry Support Group — might have been kept under wraps for even longer had not its prime author John Strak, of Cambridge consultancy firm Euro PA, spelt out pig sector concerns at a high profile meeting of the British Pig Association last week.

Make no mistake, the report, the reaction it has triggered and the new initiatives it has spawned will be the topic for debate at next week's British Pig and Poultry Fair at the National Agricultural Centre. After all, the Government appears to be unable to do anything for the pig sector so the pig sector, demonstrably, is trying to do something for itself.

The reaction to the report has been quick. Dr Strak's comments — reported exclusively in Farmers' Guardian — almost certainly persuaded the Meat and Livestock Commission to make an early announcement about its ground-breaking recommendations for the pig sector.

You can hardly blame the pig sector for thinking hard yet again about the future of marketing and promotion. The pig cycle is quicker and often more economically brutal than changes in other livestock sectors and unless things can be seen to be improving pretty quickly there is the real possibility that large numbers of producers will simply give up.

Pig farmers in Britain have always faced an uphill battle, even when times have been good. Traditionally, pigmeat consumption, in Britain has been lower than in most other countries and in round terms about half of our bacon has always been imported — and that was before the market became vulnerable to imports of fresh pigmeat not only from Denmark but from central Europe too.

More recently poultry meat has crept up on the pig sector to the extent that Dr Strak and his colleagues believe that if pig farmers don't watch it, the poultry producer will steal their market. Of course, the pig sector has had to face up to welfare compliance that the rest of the world has got away with so far and which has barely touched on the poultry sector. But the bottom line is that the pig and poultry meat sectors are nowadays truly global and therefore far more vulnerable to supply and price pressures as the last 12 months have demonstrated all too clearly.

If a good example the problems British pig farmers face is needed, there could be none better than the warning issued on Tuesday by Unigate, owners of the Malton Bacon factory, who said that price pressure would remain and that margins would remain under threat as United Kingdom pig prices are still higher than those in continental Europe.

The British Pig Industry Support Group was initially viewed with some suspicion by the more established representative bodies. But when BPISG first polled the pig sector for support for its ideas which led to the Cambridge report, it found support from farmers with around 60 percent of all pigs. The group has not got everything it demanded. But what it has achieved is significant. It has made it necessary for MLC to consult the industry — and quickly — to find out exactly what it wants.

The result is a recommendation for a new British Pig Executive with its own members making decisions about pig policy and having control of all pig levies. The hope is that this will bring greater direction and cohesion throughout the pig meat sector.

The British Pig Association has also welcomed the formation of the new executive. The BPA, while not going as far in its demands as the BPISG, has argued consistently for greater autonomy for the pig sector and will urge its members to back the proposed new arrangements.

Even the NFU, which tries to represent all sectors of farming, believes the new body will be effective in taking pig sector forward. That at least points to a high degree of agreement within the pig sector. What the pig sector must now do is use the opportunity to demonstrate that farmers and others in their sector have the ability to work together, to effectively control spending and to make that spending effective to dig the pig industry out of the hole that it is in.

Others will be watching ... if independence is the right way for pigmeat, why not for other sectors? Be careful. The name of the game is working together — not just in bad times but when markets are more settled. Pig farmers have shown that they can do that.

BPISG puts MLC under pressure

Armed with a petition signed by producers representing 60 percent of British breeding sows, BPISG is pushing for an independent pig body. "We will accept a 'considerable' amount of autonomy in the MLC in the short term, but our long-term aim is still for a totally separate, single species body," said BPISG spokesman Digby Scott.



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