Shadow Defra Secretary Luke Pollard has urged the Government to listen to pig farmers and ‘step up and take action now’ to save the industry from an irreversible decline.
Mr Pollard, a Plymouth MP, was heavily critical of the Government’s handling of the crisis so far, particularly the apparent lack of understanding or compassion for the position the industry finds itself in from the Prime Minister.
“This is a crisis that they have created themselves and I think it is down to Government to help find a solution. The first thing that Ministers have got to do, led by the Prime Minister, is to listen to farmers,” Mr Pollard told Pig World.
“They have got to take on board the pain, the worry that farmers have, not only about their livelihoods but about the welfare of their animals as well. Until now, they have refused to engage - they are basically hoping the problem will go away.
“But we know from the figures the NFU and the National pig Association are providing we’ve got 150,000 pigs backed up on farms that figure is increasing by 15,000 a week this crisis isn’t going to go away any time soon.”
While, there are now finally some positive signs that the Government is listening and is prepared to act, he said it had come far too late and accused Defra of not showing enough support for the industry.
Mr Pollard said: “This should’ve taken place weeks ago and we need Defra and Defra ministers to be more nimble and to be listening more to the industry because this won’t be the last crisis that affects pig farming and agriculture.”
He was heavily critical of Boris Johnson’s comments at the recent Conservative party Conference, accusing him of ‘laughing off the pig sector’s crisis’. “They have been blaming business and trying to dodge all responsibility. We have got an incredibly productive and efficient pig sector in the UK it’s not normally in the headlines because it’s just really good and doing what it needs to do,” he said.
“We’re not seeing market failure, we’re not seeing business failure and I’m not seeing that people have done anything wrong. The crisis has been directly caused by government decisions and government uncertainty and I think ministers have it in their gift to change the course here, and save businesses.
“My worry about what will happen if they don’t do this is that we will see a much smaller pig sector in the UK. We will see an export of our jobs and our production to Europe in particular, and we will see Britain’s food supply made less secure with less jobs in rural Britain.”
He called for Mr Eustice, in particular to do more. “We’re not getting any leadership in a crisis from the Prime Minister or from the Defra Secretary, sadly, and I think lots of us expected better from George Eustice.
“He’s a farmer he understands performing is coming from, but at the moment it seems to be locked away in a Defra bunker are refusing to listen to anyone but Downing Street spinners.”
He said short-term actions were needed too address the shortage of workers in pork plants by easing some of the restrictions that apply to certain roles in the sector, followed by a longer-term strategy to improve skills within the farming sector.
“For example, people here on fruit picker visas need to return home to apply for a Visa to work in slaughterhouses. It would be easier if they could do so from the UK, and we also need to address the English language requirement,” he said.
“We’ve also set out the ambition to have 100,000 visas for people from HGV drivers to people that work in food supply to help the country through this initial problem.
“One of the problems is that Britain has become a less welcoming place for our EU friends in particular over the past few years so we need to make sure we are looking at this in the long-term. We’ve got to make farming and jobs to do with farming a great choice for more people especially on rural areas – at the moment it’s not.”
“It is clear we’re going to have skills gaps for a considerable period ahead because of our reliance on European workers and we’ve not been able to backfill since Brexit. People are struggling to navigate our complex and bureaucratic immigration system that has been put in place.
“We need a long-term plan to be developed alongside the industry for skills in this sector, so I want to see the NFU, NPA, leading producers and processors come together to do this.”