Fair Trade Rally Call as Industry Stands Up for its Future

by 5m Editor
5 March 2008, at 4:27pm

UK - The NPA's 1000-strong London rally was a triumph. Farmers descended on the Capital from across the UK and succeeded in raising the profile of the UK's crisis stricken industry and the fact that consumers will have to pay more for their food. Jane Jordan, The PigSite Editor, rounds up the news.

Campaigning for a fair price and a future Britain's pig producers on the march in London yesterday. (Picture courtesy of the National Pig Association)

Around 400 protesters lobbied Downing Street and handed over a petition of 13,000 signatures supporting their cause. Their rally call is for a fairer deal for British pig producers, although the sound of their recently recorded theme tune 'Stand By Your Ham', was chanted through the ranks.

During the past 10 years British pig farming has declined by at least 40 per cent. Consumers have had the chance to rally the UK's agricultural industry, but instead, they have written a blank cheque to the supermarkets, writes Duncan Turnbull in The Guardian.

He says this is ironic as supermarkets have the power to restore British agriculture to the great institution it once was, yet they also hold (and currently exercise) the ability to destroy it. This week alone, British pig farmers will lose nearly £4m, something which the supermarkets seem completely willing to accept.

And yesterday 1000 pig farmers descended on Whitehall with a 10,000-strong signature petition and the veteran protester Winnie the Pig. Their aim is to change public opinion. The task is a big one, but significant progress has been made in recent months.

Customers want to know more about where their meat comes from and how it was reared, and sales are beginning to reflect that. The Quality Meat Standard and the Red Tractor marks make it easier to distinguish between home-grown produce reared to the highest standards of welfare in Europe or imported meat, which is often sourced from sub-standard units in conditions that would be illegal in the UK.

"If we cannot accept the need to pay a little more, then the extinction of the British pig farmer is more or less inevitable. ."

Duncan Turnbull, The Guardian

The choice should be obvious. Either we import our meat and remain blissfully unaware of its provenance and content. Or we choose our farmers. Only customers can influence the supermarkets' decisions. The ludicrous double standards in welfare, the persistent price wars and the special offers at the expense of our agriculture all have to stop. If we cannot accept the need to pay a little more, then the extinction of the British pig farmer is more or less inevitable.

Shared view

And that's the real concern for Britain's beleaguered pig industry.

Jonathan Bradley, who works in the pig genetics and breeding sector warned that if action was not taken to save the British pork industry, the country would become dependent on imports.

Speaking to the East Anglian Daily Times he said that if consumers think that they are paying a lot for food now then imagine what it would be like if there was no UK pig industry.

Suffolk pig farmer Jimmy Butler, echoed his sentiments. He said a lot of people have no concept of what's happening in the industry.

"If people want freedom of choice to buy British product in future years then need to use it now. The price of bread has gone up enormously. They're now talking about putting the price of beer up. Why should pork be penalised because they want to bring in foreign imports?” he told the EADT.

And, when supermarkets did increase prices on pork products, pig farmers received very little in return.

Fellow pig producer James Black, from Stowmarket, said there was a lot retailers could do. "They're the ones who set the prices of pork. We hope by raising the profile of the industry in the public arena members of the public will make sure when they go into a retail outlet they demand pork from the British industry,” he added. And said the he rally had demonstrated the solidarity of the industry.

Youngsters want a future

The rally was not just about today's crisis. According to the Farmers Guardian a large contingent of young farmers, were also protesting. Keen to show their support and to no doubt preserve their own future livelihoods.

Ben Leggett, a student at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester said that the government has the power to encourage supermarkets to raise prices and questions the government's commitment to British food production.

"They don’t appear to be too bothered by the state of British farming. If this continues you will see yet another generation of farmers go bankrupt and quit the industry and that is a real worry for the future of farming in the UK,” he said.

Bankruptcy A Reality

Gloucestershire producer James Hart says he is £150,000 a year and scores of farmers are being forced into bankruptcy due to a fall in prices paid by major retailers and increasing feed costs.

A second generation farmer, had 1,600 sows on his 800-acre farm last year, now he has just 400, each producing 25 pigs a year that are being sold at a loss of £20 a pig.

Speaking to the Gloucestershire Echo he blamed the crisis on rocketing wheat prices - up from £80 per ton to £180 per ton - and the foot-and-mouth crisis which restricted exports and that supermarkets were reducing what they paid to suppliers.

"People and politicians need to know that pig farmers are being forced into bankruptcy every day and the trend will only get worse until action is taken. "We're now at crisis point and consumers also end up paying the price as low-quality foreign pork will be the only pork available on the market," he told the Echo.

And, although the writing is on the wall the retailers are loathe to to believe the industry.

"They adopt a very narrow-minded and short-sighted attitude to a problem which is already beginning to rear its head," said Mr Hart.

Dorset pig farmer Jeremy Barber said the protest marked a disastrously worrying time' for him and other Dorset breeders.

"There's a lot of coverage of Fair trade issues now so why can't English farmers be treated in the same way? All we want is a fair price.."

Jeremy Barber, pig producer and breeder from Dorset

Speaking to the Dorset Echo he said Fair trade strategies needed to be applied to British suppliers.

"There's a lot of coverage of Fair trade issues now so why can't English farmers be treated in the same way? All we want is a fair price. Farmers are losing between £20 and £35 a pig and there are people going bankrupt. At the moment British pork couldn't carry a Fair trade label," he said.

Mr Barber said his feed costs had almost doubled to £232 per tonne in just 18 months yet there had been no shift in pork prices.

Political Support

West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin met with farmers from his constituency after the demonstration. He said falling pork profits were a long-running issue in Dorset.

"Farmers are trying to compete with meat producers in places like Denmark and the Netherlands where animal welfare standards are lower so meat is cheaper to rear," he told the Echo.

He wanted the Government to focus on raising animal welfare standards in other countries across the EU to make pork sales more fair.

Suffolk MP John Gummer was also at the rally. He said his constituency probably had the highest pig population the country.

"All the pigs for Waitrose are produced in Suffolk. We are talking about very high standards and high-quality, but unfortunately we do not insist the same welfare standards are used by people who export pig meat from the rest of the world into Britain," he said.

“I'm very keen on better labelling so people can see when it's really made in Britain and not just packed in Britain. If you don't buy British pigs the fact is you're probably buying pig meat produced in factory conditions abroad and our own industry may suffer,” he added.

Investigate the Chain, says NPA

Speaking to Farmers Weekly Mr Houston said the government needed to investigate the supply chain to ensure that it worked to ensure fairness for all throughout the chain.

“It seems incongruous to me that we have to produce pigs below the cost of production. The retailers are all aware of the situation, but each one finds it difficult to put its prices up individually because of the competition difficulties it presents for them. What they need to unite behind a rise in pig prices very, very quickly.”

Ulster Farmers Union president Kenneth Sharkey said the rally was about increasing the pressure on supermarkets to raise prices.

“We must get the market to respond to the increase in input costs. We cannot as producers continue to produce a product for it to be sold below the cost of production. So we must get supermarkets and consumers to understand the true cost of producing pigs in the UK is under higher welfare requirements,” he said.

To read the full reports go to:

Pigs Are Worth It!

5m Editor