Pig producers are willing to embrace the sustainability agenda, but the costs and benefits of doing so must be equitably shared, NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson has told a Downing Street summit.
Lizzie was among the food and farming industry representatives invited to the Farm to Fork summit on Tuesday, which included a speech by Prime Minister Rishi, a roundtable discussion and a reception in the Downing Street garden showcasing the best of British food.
“There was a lot of discussion during the roundtable about producing world class produce and celebrating and valuing British food and its high standards,” she said.
“As the British pig industry, we absolutely agree with that principle, but we need to be careful about gold-plating the rules and loading legislation onto the primary producer who has to then pay for it and try to deliver it.
“We all want high welfare production and environmental sustainability, but it does cost money – for example, sustainable soya is more expensive due to the processes involved.
“I made the point that, as we go down this road, the costs and rewards need to be shared equitably across the supply chain, and that government teams and departments need to communicate with each other when formulating policy to limit the cumulative impact on primary producers.
“I also stressed that this is why Defra’s approach to the review of contractual practice in the pig supply chain is very welcome. It was a positive response and we are really pleased there is going to be some tangible progress on fairness and transparency in the supply chain soon.”
Representatives from across farming and food sectors also highlighted the issues they are having with labour availability. “I made it clear that this continues to be a huge issue in the pig sector, particularly on farm. We need long-term solutions, rather than piecemeal visas that really only address seasonal labour every year. We don’t care where it’s from, but we need government to help us access permanent labour on farm in particular,” Lizzie said.
She welcomed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge that the Government will put farmers’ interests at the heart of future trade policy, as part of a wider package of measures announced on the day.
“While we will, of course, need to see how that works in practice, this is undoubtedly a positive change of tone from the previous leadership and a commitment the Government must stick to,” she said.
“There were also welcome commitments on labour, planning and the Groceries Code Adjudicator being kept separate from the Competition and Markets Authority.
“We were pleased to be invited to this event, which was a great opportunity to highlight the pig sector’s priorities. We would look forward to seeing some positive outcomes from it.”
Back on the agenda
The NFU said the first Farm to Fork Summit ‘provides a positive outlook for UK food security and demonstrates that domestic self-sufficiency is back on the political agenda’.
NFU President Minette Batters said: “I am absolutely delighted that the Prime Minister has delivered on the commitment he made to NFU members last year to host this summit.
“The number of Cabinet Ministers present shows the ambition for cross-departmental coordination to deliver measures to boost home-grown food production. Many of the farmers and growers I represent will be relieved to see UK food security being taken seriously by the government.
“The announcements made today show a recognition and an understanding of the strategic importance of British food and farming to the nation. And the actions recognise the importance of coordinated action across government to support confidence, investment and growth in British food.
“What we need now is to build on these announcements. We are calling for a set of core agri-food import standards for trade. Whilst it is pleasing government is looking to maintain self-sufficiency at 60%, we believe there’s an opportunity to produce much more of our own food here.”
NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy said: “This summit must be viewed by the UK Government as the start of an annual process that recognises the importance of domestic food production and puts robust measures in place to ensure the whole food supply chain, from farm to fork, takes positive steps to address the significant shortfalls that we currently see around the nation’s food security.
“I commend the Prime Minister for ensuring that all those with a stake in delivering sustainable and transparent food supply chains were present – farmers, processors, major retailers, Cabinet Ministers and Secretaries of State – giving this the potential to be a major stepping stone. That momentum must not be lost, and progress must be regularly reviewed.”
British Meat Processors Association chief executive Nick Allen said: “This was a good opportunity to bring together people from industry and government to tackle the issues facing the UK food supply chain.
“Particularly useful is the fact that we now have direct technical input via the Trade Attaches, including a new veterinary representative in China. My hope is that this will lead to a deeper and more regular engagement that will facilitate trade with new and existing trading partners.”