Government looking into regulation to ensure fairness in pig supply chain – Eustice

Defra Secretary George Eustice has indicated that the Government is planning to introduce legislation to ensure fairness in the pork supply chain.

During a question and answer session at the virtual Oxford Farming Conference (OFC), he described fairness in the supply chain as an important issue, which he said was why the Government took provision in the Agriculture Act to introduce regulations for fair contracting in the supply chain.

“This is not just with supermarkets where the Grocery Code Adjudicator (GCA) has achieved some progress in that area but, more importantly, the relationship between farmers and processors in the supply chain,” he said.

He said this was ‘particularly important’ in some sectors, such as dairy where, there’s a danger that farmers end up being priced takers and in the past, have been ‘bound to supply one processor’, but without any understanding of how the prices they are paid are calculated.

“I think that’s wrong – you should have transparency and fairness in supply chain, and that’s why we’ve taken powers to introduce regulations to deliver just that,” Mr Eustice said.

With the Government now introducing regulation in the dairy sector, he added: “We are also looking at other sectors, including pigs and wider meat processing sectors as well, to ensure that we’ve got that transparency and that fairness.

“A crucial thing if we’re going to move away from subsidy payments to farmers, is that we have got to make sure so they get a fair share of the value of the food that they are producing and that has not always been the case in the past.”

Mr Eustice’s comments, which follow similar indications by Farming Minister Victoria Prentis towards the end of last year, will be welcomed by pork producers. However, they do not deflect from the reality that more urgent action is needed to address issues within the pork supply chain, particularly regarding contracts, which have come to light in recent months, as processors have been unable to process the number of pigs available on farms.

The NPA has been asking Defra to carry out immediate oversight of the pig industry support package to help ensure the benefits reach producers and help ease the pig backlog, as intended, rather than just benefiting processors.

The pig industry will also be looking to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, whose chairman Neil Parish has indicated that it will be examining fairness and contracts in the pig supply chain in the early part of this year.

Abattoir support?

Mr Eustice was also asked about whether the Government planned to take any action to protect England’s abattoir network, particularly in light of Joe Biden’s plans to allocate $1 billion to independent meat and poultry processors to boost competition in the meat-processing industry and lower prices for consumers.

He said Defra has received representations from people saying that it should be supporting or spending money to build and re-stablished new abattoirs

“There are challenges in other parts of the UK and in particular Scotland, but also to a degree in Wales as well where they often have to transport to abattoirs in England. But across England, there is actually a fairly even distribution of abattoirs, notwithstanding the fact there has been some consolidation in recent years.

“And you always have to ask – do we want to divert money away from our objectives on support for farmers to invest in new equipment in order to pay for the building of abattoirs? When you consider it in that light, most people would recognise that, unless it’s really considered essential, we should instead prioritise investments on the farm and allow the markets to determine investments in in abattoirs.”

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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.