Defra has launched its promised UK-wide review of the pig supply chain in a bid to “increase fairness and transparency” in the crisis-hit sector.

The consultation follows a challenging 18 months for the sector, which has faced oversupply, a shortage of butchers causing a crippling backlog of animals on farms and soaring feed costs.

The severity of these issues had “raised questions about the functioning of the supply chain”, Defra said, as it sought views on issues such as transparency, price reporting, clarity of contractual terms and conditions, and market consolidation.

“Recent months have been very difficult for pig farmers due to a range of pressures including rising costs and global labour shortages,” said farming minister Victoria Prentis.

“We have engaged closely with the sector to support them in considerably reducing the backlog of pigs on farms and I continue to work with producers and retailers to support the sector,” she added.

“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.”

UK pig herd shrinks as farmers battle crises

The probe will run until 7 October and is open to pig farmers, abattoirs, processors, retailers, marketing groups and all stakeholders involved in the pig supply chain across the whole country. 

The review needed to drive action that would protect and benefit primary producers, said National Pig Association CEO Zoe Davies. 

“Recently, we have seen how the costs fall on primary producers, so we want better protections within the contracts that exist in the supply chain,” she added.

“We need to look at what are the basic things that producers need in there to protect them in terms of their supply. If, for example, the processors can’t take the pigs, what repercussions will there be? But it has to be a two-way thing, so that if the producer doesn’t supply the pigs that they’ve committed to supply what happens that way round?”

Contracts needed to “protect both parties that actually have a legal standing. But we’d also like to see a mandatory code of conduct to agree the terms of engagement, so both parties are protected”, Davies urged last week, while also insisting retailers needed to be “part of that discussion” as they were “as responsible as the rest of the supply chain when it comes to transparency and fair play”.