UK pig supply chain contracts comes under scrutiny

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/peepo
© GettyImages/peepo

Related tags Cranswick Defra covid-19 sows

A long-awaited review of the UK pork supply chain must lead to action that protects and benefits primary producers, says the chief executive of the national pig association (NPA).

The UK government and the devolved administrations launched a review of the pig sector ​on Friday July 15. They are seeking views on pig supply chain fairness and transparency.

NPA CEO, Zoe Davies, said: “We have seen how the costs fall on primary producers, so we want better protections within the contracts that exist in the supply chain.

“We need contracts to protect both parties that actually have a legal standing. But we'd also like to see a mandatory code of conduct to agree the terms of engagement, so both parties are protected.”

The 47 questions in the consultation, which runs until October 7, focus heavily on relations between producers and processors, but Davies said it was “imperative”​ that retailers are part of this review.

“This is something that we fed back to Defra because the retailers set the environment in which the processors work. If that environment is bad, and it's very competitive and cut-throat, we quite often will see the processors behaving a certain way towards their pig producers,”​ she told the BBC Farming Today​ program.

The NPA has been calling on the major supermarkets to increase the price they pay for pork.

“We need to ensure retailers are part of that discussion and that they are as responsible as the rest of the supply chain when it comes to transparency and fair play.”

Also commenting on the review was the Scottish government’s secretary for rural affairs and islands, Mairi Gougeon:

The COVID-19 pandemic and the continued lack of available skilled labor have had a disproportionate impact on the pig sector. It is imperative that we understand the current supply arrangements within the sector and explore the nature of the relationships between the various parties in the supply chain.”

Davies said the past 12 months have been ‘horrific’ for the UK pig industry

“We've seen 60,000 sows leave the industry and a lot of independent farmers going out because what it costs to produce a pig is so high…The concern is that, if things aren't done now to protect British pig supply, there won't be a pig industry in the future.”

Input costs

The pig farming sector has also been affected by the rising costs of inputs, such as feed, energy, and fertilizer. Cranswick, one the UK’s largest pork producers, has said that the war in Ukraine has contributed to an increase in cereal prices, used in feed, of over 50%, which is placing pig farmers under “unsustainable” ​strain.

In addition, UK pig producers have been hit by a reduction in the Chinese market for imported pork, due to the Asian’s country’s COVID-19 lockdowns.

Moreover, In autumn 2021, a shortage of abattoir workers and supplies of carbon dioxide used to stun pigs caused healthy pigs to be culled at farms rather than being sent for slaughter. It was reportedly the first mass cull of pigs since the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. By February 2022, the number of pigs culled had reached 40,000, noted an article​ on the House of Lords website. 

Skilled labor challenges

In April 2022, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee​ published the findings of its inquiry into labor shortages in the food and farming sector.

Its report found that the farming sector was suffering from “acute labor shortages due principally to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.” ​ It said that in August 2021 there were an estimated 500,000 vacancies across the sector and that the industry “faces permanent shrinkage”​ if such labor shortages are not addressed.

The committee argued that these labor shortages were having a “particularly devastating impact in the pig sector.”

The NPA told the committee that the problem was “not so much a shortage of labor on farms, but rather a lack of skilled butchers to work in meat processing, limiting capacity.”​  

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