October 2015: A testing time for the pig sector

It has been a testing couple of weeks, with regular debate about whether we join in with the clamouring from the lamb and dairy sectors on fairer pricing. While many producers will undoubtedly be getting increasingly concerned at the worsening market situation, it’s important that we really keep our powder dry until we absolutely need it.

At the same time, however, I don’t want the general public to assume everything is okay for pig farmers just because we’re not shouting about it. Many are on a knife edge and still desperately need public support. We’ve tried to ensure positive messaging on pork and buying British is pumped out regularly, but we won’t be dragging out the SOS banner just yet. I hope we get it right.

I’m also still reeling from the news that AHDB Beef and Lamb chairman Stuart Roberts has resigned because of concerns about Defra’s involvement in how the levy is spent. Defra apparently pulled the plug on a marketing campaign for beef and lamb, which not only went against the wishes of the (Defra-appointed) board members, but appears entirely at odds with the Government’s stated aim of growing British agriculture.
There is bound to be more to this, I expect, but I hope the fallout doesn’t detract too much from all of the good work that is going on within AHDB Pork.

Anyone who knows Stuart will tell you that he’s the most dedicated and pragmatic person, and will not have taken this decision lightly. We’ve been convinced by AHDB Pork chairman Meryl Ward that there has been no impact on pigs thus far, and the second wave of pulled pork marketing will go ahead, but the increase of Government involvement in AHDB affairs is worrying. The levy is your money and should be spent on what the industry feels will benefit it the most!

Defra still has many staff committed to working with our industry, not against it. The recent PED dialogue on whether we should make PED notifiable or not is a good example of this. Having spoken to a few producers, it seems that there’s still some confusion about what we are trying to do here. Notifiable status would mean that people would legally have to notify on suspicion of the disease, and if it was confirmed, Defra would be able to share the location of the unit with AHDB Pork. No movement bans, compulsory culling, compensation or restrictions. You might say if we got the disease it would be too late to take positive action, but I’d rather have the option of being able to limit the spread and impact, than be powerless to do anything.

Following a University of Liverpool study that found nearly a quarter of smallholders were feeding illegal food waste and a fifth didn’t understand movement licence requirements, the NPA, BPA and PVS have joined forces to develop an educational campaign aimed at them and pet pig owners.

While it’s important we pitch the campaign so we don’t alienate people, we also need to tackle the issue as this is clearly a risk, not only to commercial pig producers, but also to those who preserve our rare and heritage breeds.

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About The Author

Dr Zoë Davies is chief executive of the NPA. For more information visit: www.npa-uk.org.uk