HC Deb 25 November 1999 vol 339 cc735-7
1. Mr. Shaun Woodward (Witney)

What proposals he has to promote pig farming in Britain. [98836]

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)

In discussions with the representatives of the British pig industry, we have developed an action programme aimed at helping pig producers through this very difficult period.

Mr. Woodward

Every week, I visit in my constituency pig farmers who are suffering and in danger of going bankrupt—some have gone bankrupt. Two of them, Jamie Bell and Christopher Maughan, have given me their figures, which show the serious nature of the problems that they face. Mr. Maughan has a pig farm that produces 5,000 pigs a year. Last year, he lost £25,000. He cannot go on in business for much longer. He will very probably have to make three members of his staff redundant. He is aware that the Government have introduced regulations to help with disposal that allow £5.26 per pig. He urgently requires compensation to stay in business, but he feels that the Government are ignoring his protestations and the problems of everyone else in the pig industry who need help from the Government now before they go bankrupt. What do the Government intend to do?

Mr. Morley

There is no doubt that the pig industry faces serious problems. The regulations on offal control were introduced in 1996 for an important reason: they were one of the BSE control measures. The Government have introduced measures to assist the industry. We have talked to retail groups about progress on their labelling commitment. We have also proposed new standards of labelling, which have gone out for consultation. An extra £5 million of marketing aid has been provided on top of the £1 million already made available. It has been made clear that we expect the pig industry to have first call on that marketing aid. We are discussing meat and bonemeal controls with the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee and also what impact they have on the pig industry. We are doing everything that we can to assist, within the state aid rules. We are constrained because we must work within those rules.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is not the simple truth that, if the British consumer started buying British pigmeat in the form of bacon and other pig products, the crisis would end? It is in their hands. They have a good excuse for buying British, which is that British pigmeat is produced to higher welfare standards.

Mr. Morley

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. At one stage in the current down cycle, British pork and pig products were attracting a 25 per cent. premium compared with other European prices. That was undoubtedly due to the premium for higher welfare and quality standards. We believe that the way forward is through labelling and marketing. It is important to ensure that consumers have that information, so that they can use consumer choice to support our industry and the standards that it applies.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Following the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), does the Minister accept that supermarkets are not showing clearly the source of pigmeat from this country, or, indeed, from where it comes? Unigate, which is the biggest wholesaler of pigmeat, is manipulating the market to depress the price and, in effect, destroy home production by controlled management of imports, which it says it will increase to 50 per cent. of its entire supply. Is that fair competition, and should it be investigated?

Mr. Morley

As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, the issue of supermarkets and competition is being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading, and a report will be published in due course. On the wider issue, we do not want labelling used in a way that misleads the public on the origin of pigmeat. That is why we have put new regulations out for consultation. The proposed regulations would make it clear that misleading labelling will not be tolerated. We have also seconded a full-time member of staff from the Ministry to work with the pig industry, to evaluate and monitor labelling claims and see how retailers are doing it.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire)

After telling the House back in July that he had letters on his desk ready to send to local authorities exhorting them to buy British pork, why did the Minister wait four months before sending them? Has not his incompetence and inaction contributed to the continuing losses in the pig industry now running at over £2 million a week?

Mr. Morley

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Opposition Front Bench. We look forward to discussing a range of issues with him. My right hon. Friend the Agriculture Minister has been dealing with this issue for a long time as part of a co-ordinated campaign to raise the profile of the welfare and quality standards of UK pigmeat. I do not think that any other Minister in any other Government has done as much as my right hon. Friend to draw that to the attention of industry and retail groups and individual MPs, who have a role to play in raising this issue with their local suppliers.

Mrs. Diana Organ (Forest of Dean)

What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the impact of the proposed introduction of the integrated pollution prevention and control directive in 2002 on pig farmers and other intensive white meat producers?

Mr. Morley

My hon. Friend raises an important issue affecting the meat industry, pig farmers and poultry units. Discussions are taking place within Government about the implications of those IPPC charges.

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