The NPA and NFU have called for urgent action to address the huge problems faced by the pig sector, following today’s emergency crisis summit, hosted by Farming Minister Victoria Prentis at Defra’s London headquarters.
The summit brought together trade organisations, including the NPA, the NFU and the British Meat Processors Association, pig producers and representatives from all the main pork processors and UK retailers to discuss solutions to the worsening pig crisis.
Following the meeting, Mrs Prentis announced an ‘immediate review of Supply Chain Fairness in the pig sector’, stressing that the effects on pig farmers of what has been happening on farms have been ‘devastating’. “It is clear that many contractual arrangements are simply unfair,” she said.
However, while there were wide-ranging discussions and some actions agreed to try and make more progress in easing the pig backlog, the summit did not deliver what the NPA and NFU were asking in some areas, according to the NPA, which will issue a full, detailed response on Friday.
Giving his initial reaction, NPA chairman Rob Mutimer said: “It was a full and frank discussion, and Defra ministers and officials and the supply chain representatives were left in no doubt as to the seriousness of the problems currently being experienced on farms.
“We always knew there would be no simple solutions and we thank Victoria Prentis for her commitment to bring the industry together to try and find some answers.
“She has been very supportive and has committed to two further meetings. But while many parts of the supply chain are doing everything they can to try and alleviate the issues faced, what has become very clear is that much of this problem ultimately boils down to access to labour – and that is within Government’s, and nobody else’s, gift.
“While Victoria Prentis is working really hard for us, the labour issue is the responsibility of other government departments and that is where the barrier lies.
“There is now a list of actions from the summit and the urgency now is to identify who is going to do what and when because time scales for this are basically yesterday. Producers are desperate and need action now.”
“We are witnessing the first ever cull of healthy pigs in this country, with the backlog on farms now in excess of 200,000 pigs, and there are farming families suffering serious emotional, mental and financial stress as a result,” she said. “It remains critical that the government looks at providing financial support to those farmers most affected.
“I would also urge government to simplify the skilled worker visa route to allow more butchers to be recruited and to make use of public procurement to source British pork. There remains a crucial role for retailers agreeing to promote British pork, particularly those key joints and cuts that are essential to carcass balance.
“Let’s be clear. Since April, the NFU, the NPA and the entire food supply chain has been warning the government of the possible consequences labour shortages could have on food and farming. Unfortunately, our predictions have become reality and it is deeply frustrating that nothing has been done. We now have a long-term plan but no short-term fix.
“Without urgent action, I fear the pig sector will contract even further and we will see increases in pork imports that are produced to lower standards. That is something I certainly don’t want to see and neither do the public, who want to buy high-quality, British pork.
“The launch of an immediate review of supply chain fairness in the pig sector is positive but unfortunately it will do nothing to alleviate the crisis taking place on pig farms across the country. The whole industry and government now needs to pull together to resolve this crisis.”