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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.
We're losing £6 million each week and those losses are accelerating
The depth of the crisis in the pig industry was brought into sharp focus on Saturday when over 4,000 industry representatives staged one of the biggest ever farming demonstrations in London. The largest contingent of 700 chartered a special train from York, as people travelled from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales for the march, which was organised by the British Pig Industry Support Group.
After forming near Temple tube station the half-mile long procession marched along the Embankment, up Whitehall and into Trafalgar Square. En-route, a small delegation delivered a letter to the Prime Minister in Downing Street.
Signed by chairman Stewart Houston on behalf of the BPISG, the British Pig Association, the NFU, the Scottish NFU and the Pig Strategy Council, it explained in stark terms the current state of the pig industry.
"Our cry for help is now a desperate plea. We are losing £6 million each week and those losses are accelerating. Prime Minister, our situation now requires your urgent intervention," it urged.
"Please will you bring personal pressure to bear on Government departments and local authorities to buy only British pigmeat. Please ask the Treasury to allow limited companies to offset current losses against more than one year's profits. Please ban the import of pigmeat which has been produced under conditions that are illegal in Britain. Save the pig industry."
The letter also suggested an easing of meat inspection charges would have no adverse effect on food safety and that the Government should give direct financial assistance to the industry as is happening in the United States and some European countries.
Emotions ran high as demonstrators, many carrying placards bearing slogans such as 'Quit stalling Tony — it's cruel, not cool, to buy foreign bacon and bangers', as they chanted 'Tony Blair, you don't care'.
Some were more militant, with the most dramatic gesture being the burning of a Danish flag in Trafalgar Square, where the massed crowd heard speeches from leading BPISG members.
'We can close you down, one by one'
Group spokesman Digby Scott drew loud applause for his fierce attack on the supermarkets. "We can close your distribution centres down one by one, and quite legitimately and peacefully," he warned.
"You don't care but we will make you care. We will join together and force you to have a radical re-think. Today's price is £30 below the average of the last 17 years and we cannot survive at these levels."
He told demonstrators about a major Iceland distribution depot at Flint in Wales, which had been picketed by farmers for several hours, with the end result that the company's entire supply chain was thrown out of kilter for five days.
Ian Campbell, from Suffolk, was equally forceful. "Our industry is gradually slipping down a black hole. I speak today to the people of London from the people of the villages and countryside. We are slowly being strangled by red tape and bureaucracy and the many cuts imposed by the meat buyers."
He said the £500 per sow pig farmers had invested to comply with the ban on stalls and tethers was a direct result of public concerns over animal welfare.
Addressing his words to consumers, he said: "You need to translate that desire into action in the shops. Ask if it's British. It is life or death and if you ignore us you will see us go down the tubes.
"We are more than capable of feeding this nation. But if you don't support us you will be feeding us in a few months' time while we collect income support."
BPISG chairman Stewart Houston said from January 1, United Kingdom farmers have met the United Kingdom regulations on welfare required by consumers, a position that "our competitors have been aware of as long as we have and we unashamedly seek a marketing advantage".
"It is no use relying on the sympathy of retailers and caterers. They must be made to understand that if their set requirements are met they should honour them and if the only way to do it is with demonstrations like today, then we will have to be prepared to do it."
'It's too late
The most poignant comments came from the Rev Gordon Gatward, the agricultural chaplain for Lincolnshire. "When people support each other and put a comprehensive case the public will respond. No-one need feel they are in this crisis alone. But unfortunately it is too late for too many."
He then asked for a minute's silence "for those individuals who have lost everything".
The 700 from Yorkshire reckon they are losing £1.6 million each week. Saturday cost them a collective £220,000. Meanwhile sow numbers in the United Kingdom as a whole have declined by by 11 percent in the last year.
We've gone full circle. Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (successor to the Meat and Livestock Commission) has discarded the acclaimed British Pig Executive and returned to what BPISG called an 'inappropriate and outdated' multi-species format.
|MLC's response to pig crisis was too little, too late, says select committee
From Press report
Pig farmers pay the Meat and Livestock Commission a levy to promote pork but they have become increasingly concerned over what they claim is the commission's failure to get across the message that British pork is produced in safer and healthier conditions than its foreign rivals.
The Agriculture Select Committee report takes the MLC to task for failing to give the pig industry a more significant return on its investment. It will say that, while the MLC eventually took action to trumpet the virtues of British pork, it should have done so far earlier.
|Supermarkets have a clear duty not to import lower-welfare pork, say MPs
From Press report
The Agriculture Select Committee's committee's recommendations are certain to be viewed as a lifeline by an industry that has been brought to its knees by a combination of the supermarkets' purchasing policies and the strong pound.
Thousands of farmers who held a mass demonstration in London last weekend had the supermarkets firmly in their sights. They accused the big high street chains of pressing for higher welfare standards — only to undermine the British industry by importing cheap meat from abroad which fell well below those hygiene standards, in pursuit of a quick profit.
The price being paid to pig farmers for their meat has dropped by 60 percent. But, to the fury of the farmers, the supermarkets have failed to cut the prices at which they are selling pork and pork products to consumers by anything like that amount.
In a welcome show of support for the industry's concerns, the committee will say that, having urged new higher welfare standards on the industry, the supermarkets have a clear responsibility not to buy from sources which fail to meet them.
'It is devastating for the men who are losing their jobs and also for farmers like me, who have to pay them off''
From Daily Telegraph report
Chris Lay is a typical victim of the pig industry's blight. He is getting out of the business after suffering crippling financial losses. He has lost up to £10 on every pig over the past 18 months and is selling his 500-sow breeding herd and the last of his piglets to save the rest of his business.
Mr Lay has paid off one of his workers and a second will lose his job within weeks when the pigs have gone. Pigs were an integral part of the 1,100-acre Manor Farm at West Hagbourne, near Didcot, which is otherwise devoted to arable crops.
But the losses became so great, they threatened the survival of the farm. "It is devastating not only for the men who are losing their jobs but also for farmers like me who have to pay them off. Nobody likes to do it but there is no choice.
"I have decided to get out of pigs because I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. My advice to anyone losing money on pigs is to get out of them now."
Mr Lay's pig herd conformed to Britain's tight animal welfare controls. The pigs were reared outdoors with freedom to roam and like all pigs now reared in Britain were not constrained by the stalls and tethers heavily criticised by animal welfare campaigners.
But like many other British producers he has found it impossible to compete in the face of cheaper imports of pork and bacon often produced from pigs kept under less strict controls.
He said yesterday: "Government moves towards clearer labelling – to show where pork and bacon comes from – might help but this is not enough on its own.
"The Government has refused financial aid for the industry and it does not look as though the value of the pound will weaken to make our meat more competitive."I could not allow the pigs to endanger my whole business so I have decided to quit." Mr Lay said he was fortunate, unlike many other producers, to be able to diversify into other activities. He plans to expand horse activities on the farm.