The pig sector is 'disappointed but not remotely surprised' as Defra rejects calls from MPs and farmers to provide more support to the beleaguered industry.
Defra has confirmed it will not follow other devolved regions of the UK, and European countries, in providing financial support for struggling pig producers in England.
MPs had made calls for the government provide direct support to farmers in recognition of the dire financial situation the pig industry has been going through over the past year.
The National Pig Association (NPA) said it had "tried every way possible" over the last 18 months to persuade Defra to provide support to producers.
The trade body said it would continue to make aware of the "damage they [Defra] are causing."
One of the recommendations made by the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee was for Defra to use the powers under the Agriculture Act 2020 to "intervene with measures aimed at providing support for pig farmers rather than pork processors."
Regarding the call for support for producers, as has already been provided in Scotland, France and other EU countries, the government said: “Defra does not currently plan to introduce financial support measures for pig farmers.
"We believe that targeting our financial support on incentivising processors to slaughter more pigs, thereby reducing the backlog and the animal welfare impacts on farm is the most effective way of supporting farmers at this time.
“In recent months we have seen the backlog reduce from around 200,000 pigs at its highest point to around 25,000 currently.”
The government said it was "committed to tackling the unfairness that can exist in the agri-food supply chain" and is planning to launch a public consultation in the summer exploring how fairness and transparency can be improved in the sector.
But NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said pig producers had taken a "financial battering through no fault of their own".
“We have tried every way possible over the last 18 months to persuade Defra to provide support to producers," she said.
"We can’t say we are surprised at this response, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing for our members out there, who are facing a struggle for survival.
"We will continue to feed evidence into Defra on the deteriorating state of the pig sector, so that they are acutely aware of the damage they are causing.”
The NPA also refuted Defra’s suggestion that the backlog had almost gone: “Even though it is coming down, for some it is still very much a problem and is well over 25,000 still - indeed we estimate it to still be around 60,000."
EFRA's report, published under previous chairman Neil Parish, urged the government to take labour shortages seriously, or risk permanent damage to industry.
The MPs made a number of recommendations, including calls for the government to adopt a ‘step change’ in how it engages with industry.
There were also recommendations that were potentially helpful to the pig industry on the shortage occupation list, the English language requirement in the Skilled Workers scheme and the timing of the government’s fairness in the supply chain review.
However, the government rejected EFRA's recommendation to lower the English language requirement for Skilled Worker Visa applicants, such as butchers.
It also rejected MPs' recommendation to undertake a ‘lessons learnt’ exercise on the temporary short-term visa schemes established last autumn.
It turned down the recommendation to make the Seasonal Workers Pilot a permanent scheme, although it did announce that 10,000 additional seasonal worker visas will be issued for the remainder of 2022 but this will be for the poultry sector only.