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The crisis-hit pig sector was due to meet in an industry summit on Thursday

There are now in excess of 200,000 pigs backlogged on UK farms, according to latest estimates by the National Pig Association – which has launched a campaign to highlight what retailers are doing to support the crisis-hit sector.

The farming body said it had launched its Pork Report social media campaign to single out “the good examples where retailers are doing their best to back British producers in their sourcing, promotion, labelling and display of British pork products”.

However, the initiative was also keen to highlight “where retailers could be doing more to get British pork moving off farms and onto their customers’ plates”, said the NPA – which is calling on shoppers to photograph pork fixtures in supermarkets to highlight both examples.

Latest AHDB data from its bimonthly Pork Watch country of origin audit shows that the total percentage of British pork sold in the top 10 supermarkets is at a similar level year on year (80% in January versus 81% in January 2021).

However, some retailers have drastically reduced some British pork facings over the same period, with Iceland’s total British pork facings down from 49% to 26% year on year. Elsewhere, Lidl has seen its British bacon facings fall from 43% in January 2021 to 25% in January 2022, while even Morrisons has seen its British facings fall slightly over the past year, from 57% to 54% for bacon, and from 68% to 65% for ham.

It comes amid growing frustration from the pig sector that some supermarkets could do more to support producers by sourcing more UK pigs to ease the backlog. While the likes of Morrisons and Waitrose have run marketing pushes and increased farmgate pricing respectively to drive more sales and support the sector, most other major retailers have not reacted as decisively.

Speaking ahead of a key industry summit on the issue on Thursday, the NPA called on retailers “to agree to a mass promotion of British pork, with key joints and cuts to be specified by processors”. A similar move was undertaken by the mults at the start of the pandemic in 2020 to ease a carcase balancing crisis in the beef sector.

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As part of an eight-point wishlist by the NPA for the summit – which was convened by Defra at the urging of the NFU and NPA – the organisation also urged retailers to “move more lines from EU pork to British pork and stop selling imported bone in joints that need to be butchered here for retail packing”.

Processors should also “reduce penalties for producers for overweight pigs, especially where the carcases are sold into markets which require no specification”, it added, and should “set out and stick to a plan” for getting rid of the backlog of what were contracted pigs on farms.

That plan “should prioritise those producers most badly affected by the backlog”, the body said. It must be agreed with producers “and should not include very cheap deals, unless there is clear justification”.

Retailers should also agree to support processors in using the measures set out in the government’s industry support package, the NPA insisted. One example could be by working with them on product going into Private Storage Aid and supporting additional kills under the Slaughter Incentive Payment Scheme (SIPS) with a bigger financial incentive.

The government, meanwhile, has been urged to allow valuable cuts from pig carcases from the extra SIPS kills to be sold in UK retail outlets – rather than only be exported or put into private storage – as was currently the case.

It should also provide financial support to the worst affected producers from the crisis, said the NPA, which also reiterated calls to “simplify” the skilled worker visa route, including easing English language requirements or putting butchers onto the shortage occupation list.

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“This summit is an important opportunity to bring everyone together and really thrash out solutions to a crisis that has just been getting worse and worse on farms,” said NPA chair Rob Mutimer.

“The situation is dire. Getting the backlog down by the summer will simply be too late for many pig farmers. This is a crisis unfolding in front of our eyes – and we must act collectively now to save the British pig industry.”

The backlog crisis, which has led to at least 35,000 healthy animals being culled so far, has been caused by the combination of a chronic shortage of butchers in the pig sector alongside a flooding of the European pork market due to a Chinese import ban.