Industry Partners

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Author(s): Western Hog Journal - Stuart Lumb
Publication Date: July 14, 2011
Reference: Spring 2008



UK producers have been hit with rocketing raw material prices just like the rest of the world and are currently losing $40 per slaughter pig. Some shrewd and farsighted pig farmers bought forward last summer, but many got caught out.  Now even producers who grow their own grain are having to buy in as last harvest’s stocks have been used up. Some operators have used the current crisis to depopulate and re stock, whilst many contract finishers have opted to leave their barns empty. Having said that, high raw material prices are not a one-year wonder and for the UK industry to survive the producer must get a decent price for his pigs – $2.80 per kg. British farmers tended to look down their noses at their counterparts across the English Channel who over the years have staged noisy demonstrations to draw attention to low prices, yet who would have believed that a few years ago, during the last pig crisis, Yorkshire pig farmers, immaculately dressed in a flannel shirt, tie, sports jacket and smartly tailored trousers could be found manning picket lines at many of the big supermarkets’ massive distribution centres, causing huge disruption to these operations . A small group of hard headed Yorkshire producers were fed up with falling UK pig prices and the sight of supermarket shelves full of imported pork and bacon, so they set up the British Pig Industry Support Group (BPISG),  a somewhat clandestine group of producers, their employees plus allied industry staff. These picketing operations were well planned, usually taking place on Thursday nights as these centres were working flat out getting products out for anticipated big weekend sales. One such operation caused massive disruption to a huge distribution centre near Doncaster resulting in a complete shut down by 2am the following morning, losing that company thousands of dollars. As the weary protesters drove home, they passed a long line of 90 loaded refrigerated semis, all stood stationary, backed up for 3km and which wouldn’t be unloaded until the day shift came into work. That’s what you call Pig Farmer Power!


About 18 months ago, when prices were again low, the “nightriders” went out again. Previously any brushes with the police had been good-natured, but on this occasion the police outnumbered the pickets, turned up with dogs and threatened arrest for trespass. Hence Plan B had to be devised.


Traceability and independently audited quality assurance have been part and parcel of UK pigs for many years.  All pork, bacon, ham and sausages produced under this scheme carry an easily identifiable distinctive colourful logo incorporating a Union flag, the British Meat Quality Standard Mark (QSM) on the pack.  The British consumer has always been concerned about welfare and surveys carried out 15 years ago indicated that consumers didn’t like sows in stalls and appreciated that loose systems increased production costs, but wouldn’t pay more for the end product. This has changed over the years.  Now British producers “play the welfare card” to justify the higher cost of the UK product versus cheaper imports and, according to a recent survey, 78% of people polled were prepared to pay a little more to cover rising production costs and support British producers.  Only 9% of those surveyed thought that farmers were paid a fair price by British retailers. This COOL initiative has worked very well for the British pig farmer, but our circumstances are somewhat different to those existing right now in Canada.


The Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) is a Government body set up many years ago to oversee the UK pig industry with regard to research projects and promoting livestock in general. Many UK pig producers felt that the MLC was not responsive enough with regard to industry needs and so the British Pig Executive (BPEX) was set up a few years ago.   The BPEX board is made up of 7 leading English producers along with 3 key players in the processing trade.  BPEX operates with maximum autonomy within MLC’s statutory responsibilities.  An example of this is that in the past MLC might have decided to carry out research that in the view of pig farmers was too far removed from the “ coal face”.  Now research topics are agreed by BPEX and implemented by MLC. 


The profile of the British industry has been significantly raised of late and a lot of this is due to the hard work of producer Stewart Houston. Stewart plays an extremely pivotal role in the industry being an MLC commissioner and chairman of BPEX. Significantly Stewart is currently NPA executive director as well as NPA chairman.  Stewart is on first name terms with key Ministers in the Government and so can put pressure on key politicians at very short notice, plus he has good working relationships with the big supermarkets.  Consequently when raw materials shot up in price last summer NPA/ BPEX were quick off the mark explaining to the supermarkets that this was a worldwide problem and that they would not be able to source cheap pigmeat from abroad, as has happened too many times in the past, and that they needed to be aware that UK producers were losing $40 per pig.  If retail prices didn’t lift then it would mean the demise of the UK pig industry. Pig producers regularly monitor the supermarkets for the amounts and type of imported pork and bacon being sold and this is displayed in the form of a league table.  This invaluable data can then be used by industry leaders to put pressure on certain supermarkets to sell more British product.  Good communications are vital in any sector. Pig farming is a very isolated business.  This has been recognized here and excellent links have been established via the press, websites and SMS messaging.  PIGWORLD is now the sole surviving pig magazine in the UK – not long ago we had three. It devotes many pages to NPA activities each month and editor Digby Scott also runs the NPA website. This site is updated daily plus a forum page displays comments and queries from anyone in the industry.  Hence the UK industry is “very light on its feet “ and can respond to any crisis or development literally within hours, never mind days. We also musn’t forget the ladies.  Ladies In Pigs (LIPS) do a sterling job touring the country promoting the industry at shows and backing up other demonstrations. The smell of cooking bacon is irresistible – even to vegetarians, some of whom think bacon isn’t meat (don’t dispel that myth though!) and these ladies, all unpaid volunteers, do a great job dishing out bacon sandwiches from their mobile kitchen across the length and breadth of the kingdom as and when required.


Part of plan B still involves demonstrating, but rather less confrontationally than at the turn of the century. The Institute of Grocery Distribution holds its AGM each year in October and pig farmers used this meeting as an opportunity to ram home the current crisis.  Seventy producers braved the driving rain to demonstrate outside London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel with the message that if the UK industry becomes decimated then in 12 month’s time pork, bacon, ham and sausage prices will have gone sky high.  A masterstroke was the presence of LIPS serving delegates with delicious bacon sandwiches as they arrived for their meeting.  October is also the time of year when the industry celebrates British Sausage Week, which has now been running for 10 years.  A TV celebrity is crowned “King of Sizzle” and tours the country in a bid to find Britain’s Best Banger.  Organized by the British Sausage Appreciation Society, British Sausage Week celebrates the taste, quality and variety of the sausage of which there some 400 named varieties in Britain alone. Sausages are now a quality meat dish made of 90% pork, not rusk and bread as used to be the case, and British Sausage Week has undoubtedly raised the profile of the humble “banger “ over the last 10 years.


The Pig – O – Meter appeared on the BPEX website.  This was an ingenious idea and shows vividly how much money the industry was losing minute by the minute, hour-by-hour and day-by-day.  Another winner has been the “Pigs are worth it” website. www.pigsareworthit.co.uk/epetition.html  This advert states that the industry is losing $12 every second.  It shows a picture of a disappearing pig and pig farmer and then an empty pen with a caption “Save our bacon, before it’s too late” and urges viewers to register and log on line to show their support for the industry.


BPEX has spent $5 million (which included $1.6million from the government for post –FMD recovery) on the campaign to get a fairer return for UK pig farmers, which has included a series of high profile consumer adverts, which started last September, in national newspapers, magazines and supplements. Many of the leading TV cooks have also come on board, supporting retail price increases to save the industry.  Incidentally, pig farmers pay a levy for pig meat promotion of $1.70 per pig, although because of the current crisis producers are getting a 12-month levy reduction of 20cents per pig from April 1.  Processors contribute 40 cents per pig.


Pig farmers were encouraged to write to their local newspapers and contact their local radio and TV stations to promote awareness of the industry’s plight.  Coaching in presentational skills was given to individuals so that the message came across in a professional way.


Another brilliant NPA idea was to get a nationwide group of pig farmers, wives and family together in an EMI recording studio to make a recording of  “Stand by Your Ham”, a spin off of the 1968 Tammy Wynette classic “Stand by your Man”.  The recording was released just before the “Pigs are worth it! Rally”, which took place on March 4 outside Downing Street, home to UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  A petition containing over 13,000 names was handed in to the Prime Minister’s residence, 10 Downing St.  Farmers were also joined by “Winnie The Pig”, veteran of the industry’s 3-month protest in front of the Houses of Parliament in the year 2000. (Winnie was so called because her pen was literally under the famous statue of Sir Winston Churchill, in Parliament Square).  I was proud to help out in 2000 and recount the tale whereby I wheeled a barrow of pig manure up Whitehall at 7.30am, to be used to fertilize PM Tony Blair’s rose trees. The policemen on duty thought otherwise and I had to wheel it all back again!


The March 4 demo was a huge success, with over 1000 farmers turning out from all over the country.  Local co-ordinators worked their socks off sending countless SMS messages to keep farmers updated regarding bus departure times and the like. The press coverage was simply amazing.  I left home at 6am and “Stand by Your Ham “ was played constantly on national radio, all morning.  The video clip also featured on national Breakfast TV and at other times and many foreign TV crews covered the event. The rally featured in 9 national newspapers, 17 regionals and on countless websites. In fact, Ontario Pork wants to use “Stand by Your Ham “ at their next AGM!


Farmers met their MPs after the rally and many MPs had their picture taken with Winnie, amongst them former Tory Agriculture Minister John Gummer.  Government support has come from the appropriately named MP Richard Bacon who has tabled a cross party Early Day Motion which will call for the Government’s support to stop the disappearance of British pig farming.


Supermarkets have raised pigmeat prices but little, if any, of this increase has flowed down the supply chain to the producer.


The industry is not resting on its laurels.  Using the March 4 rally as a springboard, a special trailer carrying pigs is embarking on a nationwide tour. The pigs will be parked in town centres with placard-waving farmers putting across the message that the industry is in dire straights and singing – of course – “Stand by Your Ham”!


It’s absolutely amazing what a small nucleus of determined individuals, working night and day, have achieved over the last few months.  The Canadian industry is more dispersed than here in the UK, but many of the initiatives outlined in this article could be successfully adopted on a Provincial basis.  I’m in BC and Alberta in early June so will be following your progress with great interest!


Photo captions:


London rally-1:  British pig producers sing a rousing chorus of “Stand by you ham” at the rally in London


Downing Street:  Stewart Houston, Chairman of the British Pig Association, (second left) prepares to hand in a petition to the Prime Minister’s residence, 10 Downing Street





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