TESCO shareholders were lobbied on the way into their annual meeting, in Nottingham yesterday, to raise questions on behalf of pig farmers.
A leaflet accused the supermarket giant of using its power in an “ugly and amoral” way – by refusing to pay more for pork, allegedly, because it knows farmers are too tied up in the system to get out quickly, even if they are losing money.
Yorkshire farmers were expected in numbers at the demonstration. See today’s news pages for an update.
The demonstration was organised by the British Pig Industry Support Group, a direct action group which keeps itself separate from the National Pig Association in case of legal problems. But in this case, senior NPA officials were expected to turn up too, to underline the universality of anger with the Big Three retailers, Tesco, Asda and Sainsburys.
Some of the smaller players have done more for the farmers and one of the banners on display yesterday carried the logos of McDonalds, Waitrose and Morrisons, with the question: “They can do it, so why can’t Tesco?”
Another said: “Tesco – your barrow boy economics don’t work no more, guv.”
The leaflet said: “As Britain’s largest food retailer, Tesco is able broadly to set the price all British pig-keepers are paid. This power should be wielded responsibly. But for 10 of the past 12 years most pig producers have been in loss.”
A farmer wrote in the same leaflet: “The largest retailers have consciously and deliberately bought pork at a price they know is below cost. And why? Because they can. Don’t they know we have a 12-month pipeline? Yes, they do. That is how they know they can exploit us. That is an ugly and amoral way of doing business.”
Six weeks ago, Sainsburys announced it would pay a little extra for pork, to be passed on to the farmers. But a Yorkshire organiser of the Pig Industry Support Group, John Rowbottom, who farms near Melbourne, said this week: “It turned out to be pretty much all spin, when you analysed it.”
Tesco was chosen for the first demonstration because it is biggest of them all and because Nottingham is reasonably handy for the activists of the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire industry.
But the others are on notice that the latest outbreak of direct action is only just beginning unless the farmers get some help.
Barney Kay, general manager of the NPA, said: “On this issue, I can speak for the British Pig Industry Support Group because we agree. Tesco led the way in putting up the prices of a range of pork products but the others followed suit. And we have not seen any of it coming back to the producers from any of them.”
A Tesco spokesman said: “The impact of rising commodity prices, which is at the heart of the protest by pig producers, has been felt by suppliers and farmers across all sectors. We are working to help suppliers deal with rising costs while ensuring prices are competitive.”
Barney Kay will take over as regional director of the NFU, at the north-east offices in York, when Richard Ellison retires this summer.
China opens its doors
CHINA is finally open to British pork, after years of negotiations, it was announced while the Chinese premier was in London this week.
Half a dozen UK plants have been approved as suppliers. BPEX chairman Stewart Houston said: “Pork and pork product prices are currently at record levels in China. We have a fantastic opportunity to improve returns from selling all parts of the pig.”
China is the biggest producer of pig meat in the world but consumes even more than it rears for itself.