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NPA urges Coffey to use ongoing reviews to bring about beneficial reforms for pig sector

31st Oct 2022 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has urged new Defra Secretary Therese Coffey to use ongoing the reviews of contractual practice in the UK pig sector and labour shortages in the food and farming sector to introduce beneficial reforms for the industry.

Therese CoffeyMs Coffey was appointed last week in Rishi Sunak’s first Cabinet (pictured being welcomed to the role by Permanent Secretary Tamara Finkelstein), replacing Ranil Jayawardena, who only last seven weeks in the role.

Congratulating the Suffolk MP on her appointment, NPA chairman Rob Mutimer said: “We very much look forward to working with you and hope we can continue the excellent working relationships we enjoyed with your predecessors.

“We are also very grateful for the time and support you have given to pig producers in Suffolk Coastal as their local Member of Parliament.”

Mr Mutimer pointed out that the British pig industry has endured an ‘unprecedented crisis’ over the last two years as a result of labour shortages and COVID disruption in processing plants that led to huge backlogs on farms and the needless culling of tens of thousands of healthy pigs, compounded by the impact of Russia’s invasion on feed prices.

He pointed out that, collectively, the industry has now lost more than £700 million since autumn 2020, with Defra’s June census showing a 17% contraction in England’s sow herd.

“With many more businesses struggling to survive, we expect this trend to continue until farmers are paid a price that better reflects the current cost of production,” Rob said.

“The on-going review into contractual practice in the UK pig sector is hugely welcome and gives us an unprecedented opportunity to improve fairness and transparency throughout the supply chain, as does the independent labour review which we are delighted to be involved with and will ensure our members contribute to in earnest.

“Both of these are a once in a generation opportunity to reset the balance of power and create an environment for the British pig industry to thrive again.”

He invited the new Defra Secretary to visit a pig farm to discuss the issues outlined in the letter in more detail.

Well regarded

Writing in the latest issue of Pig World, NPA senior policy adviser Charlie Dewhirst said Dr Coffey, who moves from a very brief stint as Health Secretary, was well regarded in her previous role as Work & Pensions Secretary. She has already served as a Defra minister for three years under both Theresa May and Boris Johnson, and has been a supportive local MP to pig producers in her Suffolk Coastal constituency.

“Perhaps more importantly, Farming Minister, Mark Spencer, will remain in the role and that continuity is important for both Defra and the industry,” Charlie wrote.

“The bigger question is how will farming policy differ under a Rishi Sunak government than it might have done under Truss? As ever, the proof will come from actions, but we have some indications from the leadership battle over the summer.

“At the time, Sunak pledged to establish a new food security target, including a statutory duty to monitor and report on domestic food production levels annually and promised to chair a new UK-wide annual food security summit at 10 Downing Street.

“Sunak represents the very large and rural constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire, which is home to a number of pig producers, and he spent time on the EFRA Select Committee, so he does at least have a grounding in the issues facing our industry.”