A post-Brexit vision for the UK pig sector

In its response to Defra’s Command paper on the future of food, farming and the environment, the National Pig Association has set out a long- term vision for the pig sector. Alistair Driver reports

Brexit will present real opportunities for the pig sector to grow, prosper and deliver public goods – as long as the Government getsthe policy framework right. If it gets it wrong, however, the ability of the industry to produce high quality British pork could be seriously compromised.

That was the core message in the NPA’s 53-page response to Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s Health and Harmony Command paper, compiled by the NPA team, with significant input from members.

Following, the structure laid out in the Defra paper, the NPA response covers a wide range of policy areas. The key points are summarised below.

DOMESTIC FARM POLICY/PUBLIC MONEY FOR PUBLIC GOODS
A notable public good that 
has thus far received little consideration is food production. There must be an acceptance that where food can be produced here, it should be.

Outdoor pigs, as part of a crop rotation, and indoor pigs, via muck for straw agreements
 or the value of slurry, greatly improve soil health and fertility. Defra support to allow farmers to improve manure and slurry storage and invest in better management and handling facilities would ensure this valuable resource is used as effectively as possible.

The NPA would strongly support measures that help incentivise investment in new buildings. Improvements to the quality of the industry’s pig accommodation would improve animal health and welfare, therefore reducing the use of antibiotics. Newer buildings are also far more environmentally efficient.

Government support to help with disease surveillance, research and control strategies would be beneficial for protecting public health.

Improved productivity constitutes an important public good that Government should support because, ultimately,
 it will ensure this country has food produced from healthy livestock, bred to high welfare standards, while reducing the low self-sufficiency the UK has in pig meat.

Various mechanisms, such
as improving the tax system, innovative approaches to grants and loans and a cross- government approach to an effective regulatory framework are needed to overcome some of the barriers to investment pig farmers face.

ANIMAL HEALTH AND WELFARE
Farmers are constantly striving to improve the welfare of animals within their care. Therefore, Government support to help them trial new methods or technology would be welcome.

It is important that Government highlights publicly that the baseline of UK animal welfare standards is already well above that of many other countries.

NPA does not believe that mandatory labelling 
of production systems is necessary or required by the consumer. However, mandatory country of origin labelling requirements should be extended to all imported food products.

Defra must ensure that government procurement standards for food should at the very least meet minimum UK legislative standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety. Collaboration and strong industry leadership is required to tackle endemic disease and improve the overall health of pigs. NPA strongly supports the development of a vision and framework for improving pig health in the form of the proposed Animal Health Pathway.

Government must ensure sufficient resource is directed towards disease surveillance through APHA and that specific pig expertise is retained. A market in insurance for prevention against notifiable disease, underwritten by government, would be a worthwhile initiative.

INTERNATIONAL TRADE
Continued access to the European market is essential for various reasons, including the need to send cull sow carcases to the Continent and the requirement to balance the carcase.

The NPA strongly supports
 a continued free trade relationship with the EU alongside single market access. The impact of health certification – currently 75% of our pork exports go to the EU without any health certification – and border inspection posts would be significant on both government and industry.

Future trade arrangements must not make it easier for 
EU member states to export products to the UK than for the UK to export to the EU. The NPA would welcome new trade deals with non-EU countries or trading blocs where fairness and mutuality of standards are maintained. However, a bad trade deal allowing pork imports produced to standards below those expected within the UK and EU would put the UK pig industry at risk.

The NPA calls on Government to commit greater resource, along with the industry, to further develop new markets for both pork and pig genetics.

LABOUR
The key short-term concern
is the availability of European migrant workers for our farms, abattoirs and processing plants.

Any scheme set up to ensure the future supply of migrant labour must encourage full-time workers to come and live in the UK, rather than focus purely on short-term seasonal work. In the medium to long term, the UK pig industry will commit to working with government to source more domestic labour.

In order to encourage new entrants and young people into farming, fact-based education about farming and food production needs to start as early as possible within schools.

Government could also help farmers access a relatively untapped labour resource by helping ex-military personnel 
to transition to jobs within agriculture and the pig industry.

There is a growing need to encourage more specialist pig vets in the UK.

REGULATORY CULTURE
The NPA welcomes the Government’s desire to reduce the burden of red tape on farms, including by combining government inspections where possible.

Government should focus 
on ensuring that existing legislation is enforced properly and support industry initiatives to secure positive change before looking to raise the regulatory baseline for the environment or animal welfare.

There must not be a regulatory gulf between UK pig farmers and those producing pigs abroad – the associated increase in costs would render UK farmers uncompetitive. Government should strengthen regulation to facilitate better protection of our borders.

It is imperative that the rural planning process is improved. The Government should commit to consulting with the industry on publishing new guidance to local authorities, who tend to have a poor understanding of agricultural development.

TECHNOLOGY AND RESEARCH
Greater levels of research funding should be made available for projects aimed at improving the capture and use of agricultural data that delivers real benefits back to primary producers.

Government should facilitate uptake and acceptance of new technology such as gene editing technology through a commensurate legislative framework.

ENSURING FAIRNESS IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN
An effective, transparent and fully operational supply chain
– where farmers understand how prices are set, have access to well-designed, responsive longer-term contracts and better insight of future pricing – would give producers confidence and help ensure the long-term viability of the pig sector.

Mandatory codes of conduct devised by industry would ensure that processors and retailers are acting as they should and advise producers on what is acceptable behaviour.

DEVOLUTION
Government must seek
to ensure that there is no disruption to cross-border trade in developing new agricultural policies, particularly in relation to disease control, livestock movements, traceability and environmental standards.

Agricultural support arrangements should be devolved, but there is a risk that very different approaches across the UK may undermine the UK single market, as well as animal health and food labelling.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.