Review launched into 'fairness' of pig supply chains

11 February 2022

The UK government has launched an inquiry into contracts in the pig industry as the sector struggles with supply chain problems.

Minister for farming Victoria Prentis said the Supply Chain Fairness review would obtain industry opinion to understand how “improvements to fairness and transparency could be made to ensure a profitable and productive future”. 

The UK’s pig sector has faced various supply chain challenges, including disrupted CO2 supplies and labour shortages which have resulted in over 200,000 excess pigs being left on farms, and 35,000 healthy pigs being culled since September.

Prentis said the effects on pig farmers as a result of increased costs had been “devastating”, and “it is clear that many contractual arrangements are simply unfair”.

The announcement comes after industry bodies the National Pig Association (NPA), National Farmers Association (NFU), and the British Meat Processors Association met with meat producers and retailers to discuss the UK’s ongoing “pig crisis”. 

The trade bodies called on retailers to move more lines from EU to British pork, greater promotion of British produce, and for government to provide financial support for the most badly-affected producers.

NPA chairman Rob Mutimer said ministers and supply chain representatives “were left in no doubt as to the seriousness” of the situation following the discussion.

He said: “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.

“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.”

The government previously stepped in to alleviate pressures on the pork industry by introducing temporary visas for up to 800 pork butchers, introducing longer working hours at processing plants and a scheme permitting producers to store pig carcasses for several months before processing. These provisions have been extended until the end of March.

However, only 100 of the 800 temporary butcher visas available have been granted up so far. The government said this low uptake was due to concern around the UK’s Omicron outbreak.

NFU president Minette Batters warned these provisions had not gone far enough.

She said: “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. It remains critical that the government looks at providing financial support to those farmers most affected.

“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.

The NPA warned in August that pigs were under threat after it found some abattoirs were operating 20% below capacity.

“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 government said further information on the Supply Chain Fairness review would be shared in due course.

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