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The pivotal events of 20 years ago that shaped our industry today

3rd Aug 2018 / By Stewart Houston

Stewart Houston, a leading figure in the British Pig Industry Support Group and a former chair of NPA and BPEX, looks back on the dramatic events of 20 years ago. This article appeared in the August issue of Pig World 

Stewart Houston marchThe summer of 1998 was the most pivotal period in the long history of the British pig industry.

Back in 1998, there was NO NPA, NO BPEX, NO AHDB, NO Strategy,  NO Red Tractor (Assured British Pigs), NO email and NO I Phones. Stalls and tethers were still legal (until 1st January 1999) and it was the last time France won the World Cup.

Later in the year, the 38th David Black Award was won by Max Hilliard who said in his acceptance speech that Saddam Hussein’s family was upset that he was being compared to Max!

A series of well documented economic events led to the lowest AAPP for years, well below the cost of production, no spot price for surplus pigs and most of the producers had emptied their bank accounts making the changes brought about by the “chance in a million” Richard Body Private Members Bill, sponsored by CIWF, banning stalls and tethers.

The industry came together at a July crisis meeting at Bishop Burton College and formed the ad hoc British Pig Industry Support Group. For the first time we had producers, allied industries and processors standing together to fight for the survival of the sector. The Yorkshire men were rapidly joined by the East Anglian contingent and Pig World editor Digby Scott “volunteered” to help with PR and communications, most of which was done by phone and fax!

When I look back at the camaraderie built over those next few months, everyone working together to a common cause, organising protests and rallies and demonstrations which took them outside their comfort zones (well, most of them. One or two really enjoyed it!), that was when we built the foundation for today’s modern industry.

Imports that did not meet our new standards were the focus of “meetings” at ports of entry, cutting plants and retail distribution depots.

Reaching the hearts and minds of the British consumer and their idea of fairness was at the heart of the other strand of BPISG’s work, organising rallies and stunts to gain the attention of the press.

Who would have thought that we would work with the Metropolitan Police to organise a rally in London.  


Who would have thought Meryl Ward would get away with organising our own train (albeit a bit ancient) to get Northerners down to London. It was late because it hit a pheasant which blocked the radiator!

Later that year, BPISG, supported by Ben Gill, Richard Macdonald (President and DG of the NFU respectively), Grenville Welch (CEO BPA) and John Godfrey, brokered the BPA Commercial and Allied Industries Committee merger with the NFU Pigs Committee to form the National Pig Association.

At the same time, Don Currie, the then MLC Chairman, read the runes and offered to help us create the British Pig Executive, putting producers and processors in charge of the focus for pig levy spend.

These new organisations had a baptism of fire, having to deal with CSF in East Anglia, rapidly followed by the biggest FMD outbreak for years. Had they not been in place to design and implement the marketing, R&D, export and pig health strategies in the early 2000’s, the industry would have been reduced to a few hobby farmers