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1999... National Pig
By Digby Scott
National Pig Association's first Producer Group meeting was held at the National Farmers Union's then headquarters in Shaftesbury Avenue, on Tuesday, November 2, 1999.
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 today a top-flight management team is in place and NPA continues to change the face of the British pig industry for the better.
The pig industry crisis of 1998-2002 highlighted the need for a new organisation to represent pig producers and allied trades. Producers were clear it must embrace the grassroots ethos of British Pig Industry Support Group.
BPISG galvanised the National Farmers Union and British Pig Association into opening talks about a merger to produce a new single voice. And this time the talks were successful, thanks to two visionary leaders... Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, and John Godfrey, chairman of the British Pig Association.
NPA didn't instantly grab the heart and soul of the industry. Before that could happen it needed a Producer Group election, so British Pig Industry Support Group activists could dislodge some of the old guard. There were staff changes too.
But look at the awesome organisation we've got now. NPA is legendary in farming, retail and government circles for its lobbying and campaigning potency.
So the industry is grateful to BPISG for refusing to depart the scene the minute NPA became the industry's lead organisation — its continued existence generated a creative tension that served the British pig sector well.
BPISG had producers of the calibre of Meryl Ward who almost single-handedly, and without the support of NPA, took Government to Judicial Review over unfair treatment of the pig sector. BPISG's case wasn't upheld, but it cemented pig producers' reputation as no longer being prepared to be trifled with by Government.
And why are supermarkets so willing to engage with farmers today? Because BPISG and Farmers For Action taught them some manners.
"Just as the supermarkets dictated price and purchasing policy because they could, so too BPISG in order to even the David-and-Goliath odds, shut down regional distribution centres, because they could," explained Yorkshire producer Richard Longthorp, who went on to become (who would have guessed?) chairman of NPA (twice) and to be awarded an OBE by a grateful national for his services to farming, particularly training.
BPISG was an outstanding organisation in its time, using direct action and robust PR to achieve its ends. It couldn't stop the collapse of hundreds of pig enterprises. But it taught consumers about provenance and it laid the foundations for today's more sophisticated pig industry.
NPA went on to adopt a similar culture. Notwithstanding the challenging, fast-changing and increasingly complex world we live in, it has become even more formidable.