The Government has done everything it can to help the pig industry, according Defra Secretary George Eustice, who has placed responsibility for getting out of the current firmly at the feed of the industry.
“I’m not sure what more they want us to do,” he told the BBC Farming Today programme, when questioned on how effective the Government support package had been.
Since it was announced in October, the support package has so far failed to make any real difference, with very few butchers having arrived and little interest in the private storage aid or slaughter incentive schemes. The backlog is not coming down and the situation on farm is deteriorating – the NPA has heard of 16,000 pigs being culled on various farms, but this is likely to be gross under-estimate.
But Mr Eustice told Farming Today: “We have done everything the NPA said would solve the problem. What we now need is for them to implement what we’ve offered, which is to get those 800 butchers.
“We’ve already put in place the private storage aid scheme. We need them to access that and we need them start running additional days of slaughter, particularly on Saturdays.”
Asked by presenter Charlotte Smith, if he was effectively saying ‘it’s up to them now’, he added: “Well, I’m not sure what more they want to us to do. We have done everything they asked us, and they can’t really now come back and say it’s not working.
“We need them to bring the butchers over and get the job done. We’re still confident that those butchers will come in early January and then we will get this situation back into balance by early next summer, which was always the plan.”
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‘Something has to happen’
The NPA has called on Mr Eustice to ensure proper oversight of the package, so it delivers on its aim of reducing the backlog, rather than benefiting processors. Chairman Rob Mutimer has also asked the Defra Secretary to convene a roundtable bringing together all parts of the supply chain to discuss the worsening crisis.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies hit back at Mr Eustice’s comments. “We are hugely grateful to the government for wanting to help, but this package, unfortunately, is not helping,” she told the programme.
“We can see already private storage isn’t being used; the slaughter incentive payment scheme isn’t being used; butchers aren’t coming in. Now, something has to happen.”
She added that if Mr Eustice is content to leave this entirely to the industry to sort out, there simply ‘won’t be a British pig industry’.
“If that’s the way they want it, then that’s the way it will go. We will just see droves of people going out business, there won’t be a British pig sector going forward, or it will be massively reduced, and we will just end up importing all the product from European Union,” she said.
Dr Davies stressed that the support package was meant to be about using taxpayers’ money to help out primary producers, but instead it was helping out processors.
“The primary producer, who is in this situation through no fault of their own, is the one that is suffering the most, so we need something to help that. He did say in the recent EFRA hearing, that there were powers within the Agriculture Act they could look at for alternative options as to what else they could do, so I think that’s what they should be looking at.”
Responding to Mr Eustice’s prediction that things would be back in balance by early next summer, Zoe added: “We won’t have a pig industry by early next summer. I’m sorry, people cannot wait that long.
“They are absolutely haemorrhaging cash – feed prices are increasing by the day and these pigs are still being heavily penalised when they do get to slaughter, which is something that we really need to sort out, as well as the fact that pigs are being stuck on farms for longer still, they (processor allocations) are being cut by 25% a week still and they are having to pay extra to feed these pigs.
“The upshot is, unfortunately, we are seeing more and more pigs being killed on farms. Now, I’m sorry, that is not success.”