August 2015: When will the bubble burst?

This is supposed to be the quiet period of the year for the NPA, when MPs and MEPs head back to their constituencies, Brussels takes the summer off and hopefully most of our members are either cracking into harvest or successfully keeping the pigs cool. There’s always a flurry of activity just before the summer recess because obviously Europe wants to ensure that we’ve plenty to tide us over until they come back in September!

Consultations get chucked out at a rate of knots and EU committees comment on draft documents – leaving us to pore through hundreds of proposed amendments when all we want to do is focus on the core business and some forward planning.

Currently, the focus is all about trying to predict when the bubble is going to burst for UK producers and thinking about what we can do to lessen the price drop when it does come. As I write this, we still have a whopping premium over the EU, and although cull sow prices are the worst I’ve ever seen, finished pig prices are holding, for now. The retail price war is only going to get worse, however, and we’re under more pressure than ever before.

That premium has not been held by chance – a lot of effort, cajoling, reasoning and negotiation has gone into keeping it, and I’ll be damned if we give away any of it without a really good fight. So, I’ll be looking for some good ideas from members to help with the next campaign.

We’re currently looking at starting something that’s consumer-facing and Facebook-based – minimum outlay with a really good opportunity to reach people. What we really need is to get people eating more British pork. You’ve all done such an exceptional job in producing more and more of it, but that’ll all be for nothing if people aren’t eating it and it only puts more downwards pressure on the price. Watch this space.

The NPA also had a really good session with Adam Bedford from the British Agriculture Bureau (our eyes and ears in Brussels) on the EU legislative process. While this may sound very dull, for us poor sods who’ve to keep up with so many pieces of legislation being reviewed or drafted within the EU, it’s really essential (and honestly was pretty interesting!).

In a nutshell, the EC drafts a proposed piece of legislation and a committee of MEPs is given responsibility for it. The lead committee provides their suggested amendments, as does other committees that have an interest (for us it’s usually the agriculture or environment committee). At the same time, the Council of Ministers comments on it (Defra equivalent from all member states) and the EC then tries to defend it.

The document is knocked backwards and forwards for anything up to a couple of years, with every man and his dog having a say and suggesting changes before representatives from the three groups (EC, MEPs and member state officials) come together for a final horse trading session to agree on something that everyone can live with. We feed into this process at all levels so it can get quite time consuming. But for something like the new regulation on medicated feeds, that I’m currently working on, it’s most definitely worth it!

If that wasn’t enough we also have silly season in the press to deal with. So-called because it’s typically the time of year when there is a dearth of real news stories about, the press either make stories up or latch onto reports that have been released and try and make something out of it.

This morning, for example, several papers were declaring that the British public’s love affair with the humble sausage was over because of fears that they are unhealthy and constitute a disease risk (MRSA, Hepatitis E etc) all because of an Office of National Statistics report that said sausage sales had gone down year on year by 2%. Honestly…

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About The Author

Dr Zoë Davies is chief executive of the NPA. For more information visit: