Norfolk MPs challenge grocery giants over pig industry

Calls were made for supermarkets to give more support to British pig farmers after a Norfolk MP warned that scores of producers were at risk of going out of business.

Rising feed costs and greedy retailers have been blamed on the 'crisis' facing the pig industry, which is losing �4m a week.

MPs from Norfolk and Suffolk yesterday called for farmers to be able to compete on a level playing field with their European counterparts after it emerged that 70pc of imported pork products do not meet British animal welfare standards.

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, who secured the pig farming debate at Westminster Hall, challenged Britain's big supermarkets to source 100pc of its pork products from Britain and support local farmers. He said that rising costs were not being passed up the supply chain to processors and retailers to the point that farmers were making on average a �21 loss on every pig they sold.

Mr Bacon said he was not calling for a subsidy, but the government needed to encourage the supply chain to work better to ensure that British farmers can make a living. Whilst the British pig industry made a �35m loss in a 12 week period last year, Britain's supermarkets made a �192m profit from sales of pork products, he said.

'Three-quarters of the remaining farmers say they will get out of the pig business if things do not improve within the next 12 months. That would be a tragedy.'

'If the government places value in having a British pig industry that sets the highest standards for quality and animal welfare, then it cannot simply shrug and believe itself to be powerless in the face of global food prices and grocery behemoths,' he said.

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It comes after pig farmers descended on Westminster earlier this month to highlight the plight of the industry and urged the government to 'Stand By Your Ham.'

Mr Bacon said that his bill for a mandatory country of origin labelling regime, which will get a second reading in the Commons next month, would help the situation.

The debate was attended by Norfolk MPs Keith Simpson and Elizabeth Truss and Suffolk colleagues Daniel Poulter, David Ruffley and Therese Coffey.

Mr Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, added that supermarkets needed to show greater 'commercial responsibility.'

Farming minister Jim Paice said the number of Norfolk and Suffolk MPs at the debate highlighted the importance of the issue in the region. He added that there was no single solution, but he was 'determined' to help.