Farmers have welcomed a pledge by Waitrose to increase the price it pays for pigs as the sector continues to see an on-farm backlog, record feed costs and falling prices.
The retailer says it will establish a base price that aims to ensure producers won't be disadvantaged by the falling pig price, rather than "cutting the price of the pork we sell and putting on promotions to take advantage."
Waitrose, which is supplied by BQP-Pilgrim’s and uses entirely outdoor-bred pork, says paying a fair price for its pork is "the only way to save the UK pig sector’s bacon this Christmas."
The National Pig Association (NPA) welcomed the pledge at a time when the sector faced a 'catastrophic combination of events'.
These include a growing pig backlog on farms due to labour shortages in processing plants, record feed costs and plummeting pig prices.
Defra recently announced a support package for the sector, with measures such as 800 new butchers' visas, a private storage aid scheme and incentives for processors to put on extra kills.
But Waitrose's senior agriculture manager Jake Pickering said pig producers needed even more support, and that a longer-term strategy was the only way forward.
"We pledge to add new measures over the coming months to help increase the price our farmers receive for their livestock," he said.
“Although we have a long-standing payment model that takes into account the cost of production, during these unprecedented times, our farmers need even more support.
“Paying the lowest price could mean compromises both in terms of the standards the meat is reared to, as well as how it might impact the farmers that reared it."
Mr Pickering said a longer-term strategy was going to be needed over the course of the next few months, rather than offering short-term solutions such as price cuts and promotions.
“We have always had a strong sense of right and wrong, particularly when it comes to animal welfare, and that’s why we rear our pigs differently. Our stance is different."
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies welcomed Waitrose's recognition of the 'dire situation' facing pig producers at the moment and its commitment to a base pig price.
"The British pig industry is currently facing a catastrophic combination of events - a backlog of pigs on farms, record feed costs and falling pig prices," she said.
As a result, producers have been losing more than £25 per pig, on average, for much of this year, a financial position that Ms Davies said could worsen for many in the coming months.
"We are losing producers from the industry as a result, and it is great to see Waitrose, which has always been a strong supporter of the British pig industry, taking action to back producers in their moment of need.
"Retailers have a big role to play in helping the industry through this crisis - we hope to see similar commitments elsewhere," Ms Davies said.
It comes as the NPA wrote to all the major retailers in October asking how they were supporting pig producers at this time.