Everyone involved in the UK pig industry has been invited to respond to a government review of the sector.

The main focus of the 47 questions within the online document is relations along the supply chain and in particular, the levels of fairness and transparency. The consultation runs to 7 October 2022.

The prospect of a review was first raised in February 2022, with ministers at the time under pressure to help solve a backlog of finished pigs on farms, mainly due to a shortage of skilled butchers in pig processors.

But despite various warnings from farmers, processors, and a Westminster committee of MPs, the UK government has done little to address labour issues across the food industry.

Instead, food businesses are being told to do more to attract domestic workers, and to focus on labour-saving technology.

The latest review potentially takes some of the scrutiny away from concerns around labour, and shifts the conversation towards relations along the supply chain.

Ultimately it could lead to legislation for mandatory contracts between pig producers and processors.

Similar legislation in dairy has been in the pipeline since 2020, although with farmer-owned co-ops dominating in NI, it might have little impact here.

The situation in pigs is different, with the two big players in NI (Karro and Cranswick) effectively small cogs within much larger food businesses that answer to owners and shareholders, not suppliers. There is merit in exploring whether farmers are being fairly treated.

But as well as government loosening the requirements around immigration, big retailers can also do more to help the sector. With the UK around 60% self-sufficient in pigmeat, it is incredible that it has been pushed to the edge over the last 12 months.

The plight of the industry is also a reminder of the danger of being over-reliant on China. African Swine Fever forced the Chinese to import 5.2mt of pigmeat in 2020, which was close to half of all global pigmeat imports. The 2022 figure is expected to be just over 2mt.

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