Crisis-hit pig farmers issue warning

MORE than 100 pig farmers from across East Anglia staged a protest outside Downing Street as part of a national rally highlighting the crisis facing their industry.

Danielle Nuttall

MORE than 100 pig farmers from across East Anglia staged a protest outside Downing Street as part of a national rally highlighting the crisis facing their industry.

The campaigners, who have the backing of Gordon Ramsay and other celebrity chefs, claim higher retail prices on pork and pork products have not yet filtered down to farmers.

They say farmers lose about £26 for every pig sold for slaughter in the UK and blame soaring wholesale grain costs, which have doubled in the past year, for pushing up the cost of feeding livestock.

Hundreds of pig farmers across the country took part in yesterday's the Pigs are Worth It! rally outside Downing Street. They were joined by Winnie the Pig, a veteran of a similar campaign in 2001, who dozed in a pen on Whitehall while protesters waved placards around her.

Many of the region's MPs had also turned up to back the farmers.

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The British Pig Executive (BPEX) delivered a 10,000-signature petition to Number 10 calling for help for the industry.

Blythburgh pig farmer Jimmy Butler, one of those attending the rally, said: “We've seen a terrific amount of support.

“It's important for two reasons. First of all it gives us a chance to realise other people in our industry are in just as much muck as we are and secondly it raises the profile of the issue.

“We are real people, real human beings, we're not just farmers. It's been a great PR exercise from the farmers' point of view.

“A lot of people have no concept of what's happening in our industry. If people want freedom of choice to buy British product in future years then need to use it now.

“The price of bread has gone up enormously. They're now talking about putting the price of beer up. Why should pork be penalised because they want to bring in foreign imports?”

Mr Butler added that when supermarkets did increase prices on pork products, pig producers had seen very little in return.

Jonathan Bradley, a pig farmer from Stowmarket, warned that if action was not taken to save the British pork industry, the country would become dependent on imports.

“If you think you pay a lot now for food, just think what it would be like if there was no pig industry,” he said.

Pig farmer James Black, from Stowmarket, said the rally had demonstrated the solidarity of the industry.

“It's difficult to know how you translate something like this to pounds, shilling and pence but it raised the profile of the issues we are facing,” he said.

“There's a lot retailers can do. They're the ones who set the prices of pork. We hope by raising the profile of the industry in the public arena members of the public will make sure when they go into a retail outlet they demand pork from the British industry.”

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer attended the rally to offer his backing to local pig farmers.

The Conservative MP said: “I have probably as many pigs in my constituency as any other in Britain. All the pigs for Waitrose are produced in Suffolk. We are talking about very high standards and high-quality but unfortunately we do not insist the same welfare standards are used by people who export pig meat from the rest of the world into Britain.

“I'm very keen on better labelling so people can see when it's really made in Britain and not just packed in Britain and for people to know if they don't buy British pigs the fact is you're probably buying pig meat produced in factory conditions abroad and our own industry may suffer.”

Stewart Houston, the BPEX chairman, said: “We have been struggling with losses of £26 per pig for over six months.

“The supply chain is obviously not working and we are looking for the Government to take action so that producers receive justifiable costs of production.”

In a separate move, a group of around 30 pig farmers - including many from Suffolk - have recorded their own version of the Tammy Wynette classic Stand By Your Man - changed to Stand By Your Ham.

The recording can be heard online via the group's pigsareworthit.com website.

Hilary Benn, Enviroment Secretary, said: "High feed costs are having a huge impact on pig farmers but this is a global problem. While pig prices have been slow to respond, the industry's long term sustainability depends on its ability to compete successfully in the market, ensuring quality and welfare standards and on British consumers buying British pork."

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