Peers call for more action from government and retailers to support pork sector
Speaking in the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Harris of Richmond said that the UK pig industry had faced an “unprecedented crisis”, calling on the government to ‘act before it’s too late.’
Harris explained that a “perfect storm” of labour shortages, Covid, Brexit and the Ukraine conflict had seen producers lose £500 million since October 2020.
Citing information from the National Pig Association’s (NPA) briefings, she said: “Many have been losing more than £50 per pig, some have had to cull and dispose of healthy animals, and others have gone out of business altogether. A recent survey undertaken by the NPA revealed that four out of five farmers will not survive another 12 months unless their finances improve.”
Harris criticised the government’s decision to delay border checks on goods moving from the EU to the UK, which she said could potentially allow in diseases like African swine fever (ASF) due to “lax practices and lack of checks at borders.” She called for improved safety checks at our borders and the use of sniffer dogs at ports of entry to detect products of animal origin in England, as already deployed in Scotland.
Baroness Harris also called for more action from the supply chain, particularly some of the UK’s largest supermarkets, following the recent price rises.
Also speaking at the meeting, Alan Gregory Clayton Smith, the Bishop of St Albans, added: “Unless the financial situation improves, direct government action will be needed, whether in the form of direct temporary financial support or a roundtable for the major food retailers to ensure they support the domestic industry.”
Responding on behalf of the government, Lord Benyon, the Defra Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, said that the government’s support measures had resulted in more than 740 tonnes of pigmeat entering private storage aid, and close to 30,000 pigs slaughtered under the Slaughter Incentive Payment (SIP) scheme.
He also claimed Defra has “worked closely with the pork industry to support it in clearing the backlog,” including roundtables hosted by Farming Minister, Victoria Prentis to discuss the challenges the sector is facing.
He said these measures, together with an increase in slaughter numbers through processors, means that the backlog of pigs has now been “almost completely removed, with only small pockets of producers still experiencing backlogs.”
Benyon added that Defra was “working closely with the pig industry to identify where mitigations are available to tackle the challenges” created by the Ukraine war and the increased input costs they are facing.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies welcomed the comments made by peers, particularly Baroness Harris, reiterating the NPA’s calls for more targeted government and supply chain action. “We are delighted so many peers spoke up for us and used the information in our briefing to best effect,” she said.
However, Davies expressed concerns over Lord Benyon’s response: “While the backlog is coming down, some farms are still experiencing serious problems and we are concerned that Lord Beynon does not appear to be aware of this, given the weekly intelligence that we feed into Defra.”
Davies explained that while the NPA welcomed the efforts of Victoria Prentis to find solutions, the government response to the current situation “has not been good enough to save the industry.”
She added: “We are disappointed that once again, a Defra Minister has ducked the question of direct support for pig producers – we continue to make the case for a financial package to reflect the desperate situation and complete market collapse pig producers find themselves in.
“We have written to Victoria Prentis with evidence to prove the losses and subsequent impact on the industry and to yet again ask for their support.”