MBE for modest Meryl

The Queen’s Birthday Honours List included an MBE for Lincolnshire-based pig producer Meryl Ward. Sam Walton went to talk to her about the accolade

It gives us all heart when yet another stalwart member of the pig industry is recognised for tireless work in the sector. This time it’s Meryl Ward who’s been honoured for the many years she’s given her all on our behalf.
Meryl’s late father, Frank Arden, never gave it a thought that a girl couldn’t do what a boy could do. He automatically assumed she would farm and succeed, and how right he was. Spending a couple of hours with Meryl to gather her thoughts on the award, she says she feels she’s accepting it on behalf of so many people within our industry who’ve contributed so much.
Meryl mentioned the recently retired chairman of the Animal Welfare Scientists, Professor Chris Wathes OBE; Dr Sandra Edwards; the chairman of the Pig Poultry and Fish Working Group, Dr Mike Appleby; and the head of Animal Welfare at Bristol, Dr David Main; plus all the vets and scientists who sat round the table. They’ve all helped to set out the animal health and welfare agenda for the next 20 years, and it was for work with welfare for which she’s been recognised.
Meryl feels strongly that our industry was left in the lurch in 1998 when we were told to market our way out of the downturn – which led to the Red Tractor initiative when we were left with nothing else. But there are too many fudges in the system, she says, with branded products being one problem.
Buyers have to want and understand where their pork is coming from as marketing welfare on its own doesn’t get us the support we need to pay for welfare systems, Meryl says. We need to match welfare with eating quality. We’ve been doing this on our own, but been let down by the supply chain.
Understandably, it’s Meryl’s view that bringing product into the UK that doesn’t comply doesn’t help those of us who do meet the rules. And legislation to protect at the consumer end undermines the whole chain as the consumer doesn’t understand the issues. This is a difficult message to get across.
Meryl says that Professor Wathe’s aim was for a pig to have a life worth living or a good life with minimum legislation, and we have to do that within the financial constraints of our individual businesses. This is what the Government hasn’t grasped by not helping the industry to develop. Most piggeries are built with a 20-year design life, but currently the average age of our buildings is 22 years; most of them were designed before modern legislation, and what was acceptable then might not
be acceptable now. Indeed, what we’re building now might not be acceptable in 20 years time.
There is, of course, a good case for saying animals should be in certain conditions, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right from the animal’s perspective. Meryl says we need to understand what welfare is, but health is probably number one.
According to Meryl, it’s a long road of continual improvement that goes towards understanding welfare. We can all put the bits and pieces in place on our own units to try and adapt them to conform, but there’s a limit to what we can do if there’s no bottom line.
Meryl says she’s grateful to her parents for giving her a good education and she said her last headmistress was truly inspirational. She drummed into the girls that it was important to make a difference in life, and that’s exactly why Meryl has been recognised. Her late headmistress and parents would have been proud.

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