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The government is being urged to push forward with its pork supply chain view – and help secure lasting reform and a fairer trading... Push ahead urgently with review of pork sector, Defra warned

• Reform needed for secure future

• Fairer producer price mechanism

• Government must honour pledge

The government is being urged to push forward with its pork supply chain view – and help secure lasting reform and a fairer trading environment for struggling pig producers.

The past two years have seen pig production losses estimated at £750m while many other parts of the supply chain remain profitable, said the National Pig Association (NPA). The sector is suffering an ongoing crisis that simply cannot continue, it added.

More than 350 responses were submitted to Defra’s consultation on contractual practice in the pig supply chain last autumn, most of whom were producers.

“This not only gave Defra a very robust mandate, but also a comprehensive body of evidence to be able to make real progress on the outcomes we so desperately need,” said NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson.

Time running out

A proper and comprehensive review had the potential, ultimately, to bring about clearer and more certain contractual relations within the chain, underpinned by new legislation, added Mrs Wilson.

Defra minister Mark Spencer has suggested that Defra’s response to the pork consultation is due to be published imminently soo. But the NPA insists this must be just the start of a reform process – and the government must be fully committed to it.

A similar review of the dairy sector was initiated by Defra in 2020. This is still in progress with legislation expected this year.

Mrs Wilson said: “The UK pig sector does not have that sort of time and we hope the lessons learned by the dairy sector will help us in this process.

“We lost an estimated 15% of the national breeding sow herd in the 12 months to June 2022. Although there are now signs of a return to profitability, the independent pig sector remains in an extremely fragile state.

“While we appreciate this is not going to happen overnight and any policy must be fit for purpose, producers need confidence to continue production.

“We need the risk to be more proportionately spread through the supply chain, and that will only come with far-reaching reforms.”

The NPA made eight key requests in its response to Defra’s consultation last autumn. It sees those requests as a blueprint for what the NPA says would be a fairer, more transparent and more sustainable pork supply chain.

Demands

Key asks include legislation to underpin new pig contracts. This would allow producers, marketing groups and pork processors to negotiate terms that work for all parties – including a fair price for producers backed by an effective dispute resolution mechanism.

The NPA also wants better forecasting to improve business planning, as part of a drive to increase transparency across the chain. It wants buyers to make better use of the entire pig carcase, rather than just selective cuts.

NPA chief policy adviser Rebecca Veale added: “We have moved from a situation where processors did not have the capacity to take the number of pigs available, causing horrendous backlogs on farm, to one where we now have a shortage of British pigs.

“Pig prices are now rising as a result, but this degree of volatility is in nobody’s interests, which is why we want a more balanced trading environment, better forecasting and for buyers to take a longer-term perspective.”