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NPA makes pig industry's voice heard on import standards as FT picks up the story

18th Jun 2020 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has continued to make the UK pig sector’s voice heard as a lead story it helped to arrange in the Financial Times on a UK-USA free trade agreement generates huge interest.

FT paperThe article, which appeared online yesterday and on the front page and page 3 of the FT today, went into detail about the nature of UK pig production, how it differs from other countries’ pig herds, and what the major pitfalls could be of allowing unrestricted access to US pork imports.

The journalist, FT public policy editor Peter Foster, spoke at length to NPA Chairman Richard Lister about indoor production, and the legacy of the 1999 stall ban. He and an FT photographer then visited Norfolk last week to meet and interview NPA vice chair Rob Mutimer (with social distance measures applied - see pic below), with the NPA’s Ed Barker also attending.

All three were quoted in the article:

“Ministers often say the UK will not dilute ‘our’ welfare standards after Brexit. But they don’t say how they will protect us from imports produced to much lower standards, like those in the US. We have to have a level playing field,” said Rob.

Richard said: “The media has latched on to ‘chlorinated chicken’ and ‘hormone beef’, but the real issue is welfare standards. Without protection, we’ll be sitting ducks.”

Ed added that even if the UK maintained the EU bans on the feed additive, ractopamine, which is widely used in the US, it was lower welfare standards that really enabled US producers to lower costs, a point backed up by figures. Commenting on the Government’s move to block amendments to the Agriculture Bill that would have legally required equal standards on imports, he said: “If the government is sincere, then why not write it into law?”

FT article interview RM

You can view article, which was leading the FT site at one point, online here (subscription required)

Or via a PDF here

FT article 1

The article generated a phenomenal response after it was shared on social media by Mr Foster, with thousands of shares, likes and comments, including from prominent figures in the industry and national media.

How the day unfolded

Here Ed explains how the NPA arranged for the article to happen and how the day went:

Since the start of Covid-19 we had a discussion internally that, with the lack of activity in Westminster, we had to be innovative about how we get our messages out on a number of issues, but especially salient ones such as trade policy and the Agriculture Bill.

I got in touch with Peter after he wrote a piece on US trade deals and UK agriculture, and how we needed to discuss the ‘real’ effects of trade and what it means in practice.

After some discussion we looked at the idea of presenting some real cases studies that go into real detail and nuance behind the traditional lines on food standards we have heard for some years now.

It was great because Peter wanted to know every single thing about the industry – how it is structured, its costs of production and the sentiments of consumers.

The day was spent discussing the ins and outs of the UK pig sector – from Covid-19 to Brexit, labour, trade, compliance, assurance, even water drinkers and creep feed!

Behind this, Peter Foster was keen to get beyond a debate on ‘chlorine chicken’ and instead really understand how a new trade policy in the UK could affect British pig producers at on farm

What was refreshing was that he not only grasped the issues really quickly, but was absolutely clear he wanted to focus on commercial scale UK pig farms, and not the utopian smallholdings that are sometimes presented by media outlets or celebrity chefs!

Even better was that he wanted gritty data on carcase balance and cost of production analysis. I am really pleased with how to article came out and gives a good in depth analysis of the sector.

At a time when so many people are absorbing news in the home, it was striking that the FT tweeted the story to its 4.1 million followers and made it the lead story on the website.

It then appeared in the print edition the following day, complete with charts on carcase balance, cost of production, and multiple photos of Rob’s farm, its pigs and even the paperwork for assurance audits!

Reflecting on the day, Rob said: “This was a tremendous opportunity to get the message across about what a trade deal really could mean on farms – and take it beyond the headlines about chlorine-washed chicken, which only tell a fraction of the story.

“Part of our job as the NPA is to communicate to the media and wider public how policy affects us, and we are grateful to the FT and Peter Foster for giving us the chance to do this in such a comprehensive way.”