Defra to hold urgent talks with pig sector amid 'perfect storm'

Defra will hold crisis talks with the pig sector representatives next week
Defra will hold crisis talks with the pig sector representatives next week

The government has agreed to hold an urgent meeting with pig sector bodies to discuss the 'perfect storm' currently impacting producers, namely the effects of Brexit and Covid-19.

The National Pig Association (NPA) has warned that the current issues facing the sector could 'rapidly turn into a crisis'.

Roundtable talks, which will be chaired by Defra's Farming Minister Victoria Prentis, will take place on Tuesday 9 February.

Pork plants continue to be affected by Covid-19 outbreaks, including the Brechin plant in Scotland, which is currently closed for a fortnight, resulting in reduced weekly throughputs, causing pigs to be rolled.

On a UK-wide level, the NPA explained that while the national backlog did not appear to be growing, there was 'little sign of it easing'.

On top of the pandemic, the pig sector has been hit with new Brexit checks and paper-based certification requirements at borders, which have caused delays to exports.

With pork being a perishable product, these delays have started to make UK shipments unattractive to buyers in the EU, forcing processors to reject shipments and cancel future orders.

Those involved in pork exports have also explained how vastly different approaches were being adopted at different ports, making it difficult to send consignments to the EU with any certainty.

This has further damaged the cull sow market, while exports in certain categories, such as live breeding pigs, have ceased altogether, the NPA says.

Meanwhile, UK pig prices are falling and costs of production are rising, with many producers either already losing money or expecting to be operating on negative margins soon.

“We have been working very hard to raise awareness of all the issues facing the industry and it is really important that we will now have ministerial involvement as we look to find solutions," said NPA chief executive Zoe Davies.

The industry body said it would also engage with processors to work on the options available to help the industry, and has asked AHDB for levy underspend to be used to support the industry.

“We are also developing a campaign to promote British pork,” Ms Davies added.