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Young NPA chair highlights pig sector import concerns at NFU conference

25th Feb 2020 / By Alistair Driver

Young NPA chair Wes Udall received a strong ovation at the NFU conference when he highlighted the pig industry's concerns over future trade deals.

Wes NFUAsking a question from the floor at the Birmingham event, Wes pointed out that we could find ourselves in the ridiculous situation where the UK bans farrowing crates, only to import pork from the US produced using sow stalls, which were banned in the UK in the 1990s. 

He said: “Green NGOs and some parts of government have stated a wish to move away from using farrowing crates in the UK, which protect the welfare of the piglet and the producer.

"Meanwhile, other parts of government wish to import pork from the USA, a country that widely uses sow stalls - banned in the UK in 1999. With those polar opposite production systems, how can British pig producers expect a viable trading future?"

His question sparked a strong reaction among the audience of around 1,400 and prompted a lengthy discussion on the panel, which included NFU vice president Stuart Roberts, the NPA's Ed Barker reported. 

Import concerns

Post-Brexit standards was a central theme at the conference, opened by NFU president Minette Batters on Tuesday morning. In an impressive speech, she challenged the Government to show global leadership on international trade and insist that British farm standards are the benchmark for any food imports in future trade deals.

She highlighted the gulf between the high animal welfare and environmental standards British farmers adhere to and the lack of equivalent regulation around the world and said it would be 'insane' to allow chlorinated chicken into the country.

The EU will demand that the UK keeps its ban on chlorinated chicken as a requirement for a trade agreement with Brussels, the Guardian has reported, citing documents it has seen.

But new Defra Secretary George Eustice, who is due to appear at the conference on Thursday, fell short of pledging that the UK would not permit imports of products like chlorine-washed chicken in future trade deals when he appeared on Sky News on Sunday. 

“We won’t make any moves on our standards, we’ve got a clear position in this country that it is illegal to sell chlorine-washed chicken, illegal to sell beef treated with hormones, we have no plans to change those things,” he said.

He added that the US was unlikely to insist on chlorine-washed chicken being part of future trade deals, as the practice was no longer used. Lactic acid washes are more commonly used, he said.

But in her speech, Mrs Batters called for a more robust commitment from Government. “This year the government must show global leadership, insist that UK farm standards are the benchmark for climate-friendly farming around the world and that whoever wants to trade with us, trades on our terms," she said.

“We must not allow those standards to be undermined by imports of goods which would be illegal for our farmers to produce here.

“In other parts of the world abattoirs use chlorine or other chemicals to wash carcases – this is not allowed in Britain because we have legislation on the way we keep our livestock which limits stocking density. We have rules on biosecurity, lighting, diet and veterinary oversight.

“In the US and other countries there are no federal controls on what are deemed in the UK to be fundamental welfare requirements.

“And in Japan, Australia, China, Canada, Brazil, Malaysia and India the use of antibiotics is permitted for growth promotion.

There are, of course, a number of differences in pig production standards between the UK and US, for example, including the use of feed additive ractopamine in the US, where sow stalls are still widely used and antibiotic use is higher. Mrs Batters insisted this was not just about chlorinated chicken, but about a wider principle.

“If the government is serious about animal welfare and environmental protection and doing more than any previous government, it must put legislation in the Agriculture Bill," she said.