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'The louder our voice, the stronger case we have for change'

7th Oct 2022 / By Alistair Driver

The consultation on Defra's review of contractual arrangements in the pork supply chain has now closed, with anecdotal evidence of a late flurry of responses from the industry. 

Pigs 2021Producers and anyone else connected to the industry were being urged to respond before it's too late. 

NPA chairman Rob Mutimer said: “The NPA is working hard to formulate a response that reflects the views of our diverse membership and that the whole industry can get behind.

“It is equally important, however, that producers respond individually, outlining your own current situation and what you want from future contractual relations with your buyers. The louder our voice, the stronger case we have for change.”


The consultation sought views on current contractual arrangements and what changes could be made to deliver a fairer supply chain. 

There are 44 questions, seeking views on issues such as transparency, price reporting, clarity of contractual terms and conditions, and market consolidation.

Clear conscience

See the forum for a flavour of the messages being sent out.

"All I know is that if I hadn't done it, I wouldn't have been able to continue shouting from the sideline with a clear conscience," one poster said. 

"The thought of doing the survey filled me with a little dread , but once I got into it, I actually felt that my responses could genuinely make a difference to all of our futures."

In his latest post, NPA vice chairman Hugh Crabtree said: "Producers in particular please get to it now. Allied trades, your voice can and must be heard as well. You can use all the "further comments" boxes to tell Defra how you see the supply chain working for your customers.

"These comments allow you to indicate how failure at prime producer level means a reducing support industry with all its diversity and employment."

Loud and clear

Lizzie Wilson 22NPA chief executive Lizzie Wilson said: "We need as representative a response as possible, and as many voices falling in behind us to ram that collective message home, loud and clear; the supply chain as it stands, is broken. It has stopped functioning, for one reason or another, to serve and sustain each link within.

"Risk and reward are not proportionately distributed and we cannot continue. This is an extraordinary opportunity for the pig sector, which we absolutely cannot waste.

"We have battled and battled for government to listen to us on this, so it’s now up to us to answer as otherwise there’ll be no change to the status quo and we’ll not be forgiven by those who gave us the chance." 

She stressed that even just working your way through ticking the yes/no boxes to build a picture of your business and its relations with customers will be 'immensely valuable'.

"The strength of the response will demonstrate the significance of the issue and perpetuate the necessary change," Lizzie said.

About the review

The review notes that the pig sector has seen significant challenges in recent years, and notes that stakeholders have suggested 'there is a lack of transparency between processors and producers, and that a more consistent approach across processors may bring positive benefits to the sector'.

"The purpose of this consultation is to gather evidence about how supply arrangements in the pig sector currently function and to explore the nature of the relationships between the various parties in the supply chain. It is also seeking views on whether the functioning of the supply chain can be improved," the overview states.

It observes that pig producers in the UK tend to be small, individual businesses supplying highly consolidated businesses further up the supply chain who command substantial shares of the market.

"This disparity can make pig producers vulnerable to unfair trading practices. The Agriculture Act 2020 introduced the ‘Fair Dealings Powers’ which are designed to address any unfair practices, enabling Government to introduce regulations to oversee the relationship between producers and buyers where necessary," it added.

Political will

There is, without doubt a political will for change, following a similar process in the dairy, which has resulted in new legislation being drafted to oversee contractual relations. 

Former Farming Minister Victoria Prentis said: “I am a firm believer in ‘Buy British’ and supporting our domestic pig producers, and a fair and transparent supply chain is paramount. I hope the industry engages fully with this consultation so that we can help to address the challenges that they are facing.”

The NPA has highlighted the impprtance of the consultation to the new Defra team. 

But change will only happen if producers make their voices heard in large numbers and deliver a clear and unambiguous case as to why it is necessary.