BPISG's 'Bunker Gang' will be reunited tonight at a secret location in deepest Yorkshire
13th Apr 2018 / By Digby Scott
The Bunker Gang will be meeting at a secret location in deepest Yorkshire tonight, when members will look back in anger, and perhaps a little nostalgia, at the most infamous period in the history of the British pig industry.
So called because they met in producer John Rowbottom’s (pictured right) World War Two bunker near Melbourne in Yorkshire, the Bunker Gang plotted British Pig Industry Support Group activities, including the London March, ambushing of government ministers, and regular Thursday night blockades of supermarket retail distribution depots.
From this shadowy organisation the National Pig Association later emerged, to become the industry’s 'Single Voice' in January 2000, and to go on to be applauded by members, trade associations, the media, civil servants and government ministers for its outstanding effectiveness as a lobbying organisation.
Present with their spouses at tonight’s meeting will be Ian Campbell, John Cusson, Tom Danter, Stewart Houston, Richard Longthorp, John Rowbottom, Digby Scott and Meryl Ward. A fond toast will be drunk to the late Chris Brant, who was a pivotal member of the gang.
In the second half of 1998 the bottom fell out of British pig producers' world. Most had borrowed heavily to comply with ill-conceived United Kingdom unilateral legislation banning gestation stalls from January 1999.
And now at the worst possible time, world pork prices went into freefall, just as sterling was rocketing in value making imports cheaper than ever. British pig farms started haemorrhaging cash at a scale unprecedented in living memory. It was terrifying.
This is when the Bunker Gang started to meet.
The pending stalls ban meant producers were losing money on every pig they sold, whilst incurring significant debt in order to quit stalls and convert to loose-housed sows.
Few gainsayed the welfare benefits of loose-housing, but what producers found offensive was the unilateral nature of the legislation. Pig farmers in the rest of the European Union were free to continue using stalls, and even barbaric tethers, much cheaper production systems.
So who does history finger for this disaster?
Blame the Boston MP, the late Sir Richard Body — a pig-keeper himself — who introduced the Pig Husbandry Bill in 1991. Blame Margaret Thatcher. It was enacted on her watch, albeit with breathing space until 1999.
And never forget the infamous behaviour of multiple retailers. They supported the Body Bill. And then, come January 1999, they continued piling their shelves high with cheap pork products from continental stall-and-tether pig units.
And just to squeeze every last penny out of this miserable market, they mislabelled these products so they appeared to come from British farms.
Market failure indeed. Retailer duplicity indeed. Political infamy indeed. Pig farmers were trapped. Some couldn't quit as liquidating their fast-shrinking assets would no longer cover their growing debt.
So what followed? Lies and subterfuge by politicians and retailers. More lies. Still more lies. And a levy-board that continued taking £millions from producers every year, yet failed to notice anything was amiss.
Then classical swine fever in East Anglia. Then foot-and-mouth across the country. Then rampant wasting disease on tired, run-down units, owned by tired run-down pig farmers. And all this time, low prices.
Through it all shone the grassroots British Pig Industry Support Group, whose members fought for justice and ultimately succeeded in changing the face of the British pig industry.
And from BPISG, was born today’s National Pig Association — a lasting legacy to the resilience of British pig producers.
For more information see 'Supermarkets dictated price and purchasing policy, because they could. And we evened the odds by shutting down regional distribution centres, because we could’ here: