Pig farming Debate

Neil Parish condemns the supermakets for driving pig farmers out of business and for misleading labelling where the Union Jack is used when the meat is only processed in this country and is not a genuinely British product.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Mr Bayley, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr Bacon) for securing this opportune debate.I want to concentrate first on the profitability of the pig sector. It is obvious that pig farmers cannot go on losing £20 per pig-something needs to be done. At other times when pig farmers lost money due to high cereal prices, cereal prices subsequently fell, so pig farmers could bridge the gap and the profitability of pigs returned. This time, we cannot guarantee that the peak in cereal prices will be here for only a short while; it may be here for quite a lot longer. It is always difficult to predict a market while thinking on your feet.We must say clearly to the supermarkets that it does no good to drive pig farmers out of business, which is what they are doing. It is very short-sighted and has a knock-on effect on the cereal producer, because we produce a lot of barley and wheat for feed that goes to the pig and poultry sectors.As many hon. Members have said, the pig industry is unsubsidised. It does not get any single farm payments, and pig farmers have to make their money back from the marketplace. We have to help them to do so through the grocery adjudicator and others. Hon. Members also talked about labelling, and although the \\British\\ label is not always easy to get, there are regional labels, which have legal standing and are easier to maintain. When I was in the European Parliament, the French, and particularly the Italians, seemed to manage to label everything with a region and, largely, get away with it. We have to be keen on this.Back in the '90s, we introduced extra welfare standards for pig farming. Why did we bring those in? Because our people are very keen on animal welfare, but, to put it bluntly, if they are keen on animal welfare, they should put their money where their mouth is. Clearly, higher standards make costs higher, so we must ensure that produce is properly labelled in supermarkets so that consumers know what they are buying and are able to buy a British product.Our main competitors in the pig industry are the Danes, probably closely followed by the Germans, and they are using sow stalls and tethers to this day. I remember trying to table an amendment to get them banned in Denmark by 2004, but the Danes are getting away with it until 2012. The Minister is a friend to farming, and I know that he will fight our corner very hard to ensure that there is no extension. This has gone on for far too many years and driven far too many pig farmers out of business.Pig farmers do not want to join the subsidy junket. One or two might, but generally they want a fair price for their pigmeat. I have been to many local producers in my constituency to see the farrowing and the outdoor pig systems. We have some of the best, if not the best, pig systems in the world, but that costs more money. We have all made this plea to the Minister: let us look at this matter every way we can. Let us help pig farmers to brand their produce with a local label-Devon meat, of course, is better than any, but perhaps Norfolk meat is nearly as good-and to market it so we can get an increase in price. We give Morrisons top marks, but other supermarkets have lower grades, so let us say to the supermarkets that they cannot go on making pig farmers produce pork at a loss, because the pork will not be there. Once pork in the rest of Europe has decreased-the German situation-and production has fallen, there will not be this vast amount of pork sloshing about in the European market. What the supermarkets are doing is all very short-sighted.We should look at ways that Government can help, but this is also about the power of the consumer. We must get the message over to consumers that they must go into the supermarkets, look at the label and ensure that the Union Jack is not just for processing, but that the pork was reared, slaughtered and processed in the UK. That someone can still put a Union Jack on a label just for processing is a problem. Often, people will pick that product up as though it is a genuine British product.I welcome the debate. The number of Members present this afternoon, even with the Budget debate going on, shows how important we feel the topic is. I also welcome the presence of the Minister and the shadow Minister.| Hansard