Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee chair Neil Parish will tell Defra Ministers they need to do more to support producers directly during the ‘dire’ pig industry crisis.
Defra Secretary George Eustice recently appeared to wash his hands of the pig industry crisis, saying there was little more Government could do help, after unveiling a support package in October.
But when he spoke at the Young NPA National event in London, on Tuesday, Mr Parish was told in no uncertain terms that pig producers, in an increasingly desperate position, are not seeing any benefits of that support, which is directed at processors.
Mr Parish, who has also pledged to investigate questions around fairness in the supply in the New Year, said: “It is clear we need to get support directly to the farmers themselves – there has been some support for processors, but not enough for farmers.
“It’s not the farmers’ responsibility to have the labour in the slaughterhouses to slaughter their pigs, and yet they are the ones that are suffering low prices for their pigs because of a lack of processing, alongside very high cereal and feed costs. They are really stuck in a double whammy.”
At the event, he heard a series of first-hand accounts from producers suffering in the midst of the worst industry crisis in more than two decades. Yorkshire producer Kate Morgan, one of the driving forces behind the Save GB Bacon campaign stressed the need for immediate intervention from the Government.
“We are losing so much money and the government has stepped in to help, but it has only helped the processor. The processors are making millions – we are the ones that are struggling. MPs need to talk to real farmers because it is dire,” she said.
Another produced added that, at even the most conservative estimate, producers are currently losing £40 to £60 per pig. “Even most resilient farmers in the country can’t cope with that. We need solutions now – we can’t wait until next spring,” he said.
Mr Parish told the group of young producers and allied industry representatives that he would pass these messages on to Defra Ministers, who he has unique power to call to account in his role as chair of EFRA, which scrutinises the Department.
EFRA recently interviewed Mr Eustice as part of its inquiry into labour issues in the food supply chain. Mr Parish, who at one point asked whether would have to burn before the Defra Secretary took firm action, took strong issue with Mr Eustice’s claims that labour shortages in pork plants should be classified as a commercial business risk for producers and therefore did not justify Government support.
“It is not a business risk is when it’s completely beyond your control and this is clearly not in the pig producers’ control at all. Yet they are having to pay for it,” he told Pig World. “It’s partly government policy because we haven’t actually got a flexible enough system for bringing in labour from abroad.
“We know the direction of travel, but until we can train up our home-grown labour, we’ve just got to give ourselves more time. Otherwise, if we don’t import the labour, we export our food, we export our production.”
Mr Parish also promised that EFRA would look more deeply into fairness in the supply chain, including ‘how they have been behaving in this and around contracts’, in the early months of next year.
“In the New Year we will look at the retailers, at where they are buying their pork and whether they are taking advantage of the situation. We must not let that happen because we need great British producers – the retailers like to make much of the fact that they have British pork on their shelves, so they got to stand up and support the industry when they need it,” he said.
NPA vice chairman Hugh Crabtree warned that those involved in the involved in the industry faced serious personal and mental health issues – and suggested how Mr Parish could help.
“It is a very serious situation on farm. I can’t tell you how serious it is – whole lives have been dedicated to producing food for consumers, and for them to see animals killed on farm go straight into the skip is absolutely appalling,” he said. “The primary producer is picking up the entire burden for the situation and it is bloody fed up. This has got to stop.”
Mr Crabtree urged the MP to ask Mr Eustice convene a roundtable meeting involving retailers and processors to ‘knock heads together’, as requested by NPA chairman Rob Mutimer.
Mr Parish made it clear he had got the message. “It has come home to me loud and clear, talking to a number of you, that we have to nuance what we are doing to get greater support into the industry.
“And I will talk to George Eustice and Victoria Prentis about exactly how we do that and the practical ideas you come up with.”
He added: “As my grandmother said, an ounce of help is worth more than a tonne of sympathy.”