Farmers in Tesco pork price protest

NEARLY a hundred pig farmers and supporters lobbied Tesco shareholders on their way into their annual meeting yesterday, saying some of them would be forced out of business unless they received improved prices.

The demonstration, outside the East Midlands Conference Centre in Nottingham, was organised by the British Pig Industry Support Group, a direct action wing of farmers’ organisations.

The group also warned Asda and Sainsbury’s that they may face pickets at their offices and their distribution depots.

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Feed prices have rocketed, and counter prices have gone up, but the farmers say their share has gone down, because none of the Big Three supermarkets wants to be the first to add to its purchasing costs by insisting on a realistic price for producers.

Chairman David Reid read a statement which included the claim that the company had increased the price it paid for pork “in recent weeks”.

But the farmers said Tesco had only made a small contribution to a price rise the farmers had already got from the big pork processing factories.

A farmers’ leader said: “As usual, we are getting weasel words. Tesco paid what it absolutely had to – too little and too late and not enough for the processors to give us the further rise we still need.”

Richard Longthorp, 58, from Kilpin Hall Farm near Howden, East Yorkshire, and his 28-year-old daughter Anna were among the demonstrators.

Mr Longthorp said supermarkets were making £16m a week profit from the products of pig farms which were losing £3m a week. Every pig sold was costing the farmer £10.

He said he no longer dealt with Tesco processors and had switched to Waitrose.

Mr Longthorp said both Waitrose and Morrisons had tried to help but warned that if the pay from the bigger supermarkets was not improved there would soon be a shortage of British pork because farmers would not be able to stay in business.

His daughter said she had set up her own free-range business, Anna’s Happy Trotters, which supplies small butchers and customers directly, because she wanted to get away from the supermarket supply trap.

She said: “It is soul destroying seeing farmers who have worked their whole lives having to give it up.”

Tesco spokesman Tom Hoskin said: “We deal with the pork processors. We have increased the price that we pay those processors, so this is a discussion that the pig farmers need to have with the processors.

“We’re British farming’s biggest customers. Seventy percent of our fresh pork and 100 percent of our Finest sausages and bacon come from UK farmers. We buy as much British pork as we can. We are in constant contact with the National Pig Association and the British Pig Executive. We are having dialogue the entire time. We are always trying to work out a solution to problems as they emerge.”

But the farmers said British sourcing was last year’s issue. The problem of the moment was pricing based on the cheapest available sources, including “buffer stocks” in freezers.

See the Country Week section of today’s Yorkshire Post for more on this story.