In pictures: Westminster pig protest

Hundreds took to the streets of Westminster yesterday to raise awareness of the burgeoning crisis in the UK pig industry.

Pig producers from across the country were joined by MPs and celebrities to highlight how a double whammy of soaring input costs and supermarket discounting is putting producers out of business.

The protestors delivered the results of an online petition, which had been signed by around 6,500 people.

Earlier on in the day, industry officials had been urged to “hang on in there” by the Secretary of State Caroline Spelman, as she outlined  procedures that government are taking to tackle the problems:

- A Grocery Code Adjudicator legislation, due shortly, will provide a new tool to tackle unfairness in the supply chain.
- Introduction of a government procurement service to make sure that government is doing its bit to support the industry and buying to British high-welfare standards.
- A petition to allow greater tolerance of GM content in feed should ease pressure on feed costs, although the minister recognised that underlying problems of rising commodity prices are beyond the government’s reach.

Spelman also promised to raise the issue with the British Retail Consortium. “We do need to get into the whole question of supply chain and the power of retail,” she said. “We still haven‘t got that honesty in labelling whch is something we have been campaigning very hard on. There is still work to do, but it’s going to be key to the industry.”

Richard Bacon MP, who introduced the stringent food labelling bill in January, said: “There is a responsibility on supermarkets and on processors to engage in regular dialogue with the industry, as we can all see that the supply chain at the moment just isn’t working. While there is a limit to what government can do, there is no limit to what government ought to do to make sure that the rules are fair and that consumers are able to make an informed choice. Without legislation, there is no guarantee that consumers will get the choice and information they are demanding.”

Stewart Houston, chairman of Bpex, said: “Government does have influence with retail and can point out this kind of discrepancy to them both formally and informally. We want to hear the government proactively doing something about it. We need concrete policies to back it up.”

Barney Kay, general manager for the National Pig Association (NPA), said: “We are not asking for the end price of the product to go up – just a fairer distribution of the margin.”

Hard-hitting research by Bpex revealed yesterday that UK pig producers lost £35m in the 12 weeks to end  of January 2011. Meanwhile processors made an estimated £100m profits and retailers are understood to have made £192m in the same period.

>> Government support for pig industry falls short of hopes