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Agriculture: British Pig Industry

Volume 718: debated on Tuesday 6 April 2010

Question for Short Debate

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to tackle the causes of the long-term decline of the British pig industry.

My Lords, I am grateful for having been given this slot on such an historic day and, indeed, for the very impressive list of speakers. I am especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who I know has already had a very busy day.

I declare an interest as a farmer, some of whose produce ends up in the pig supply chain. I do not raise pigs, although my father used to include pig farming as one of his recreations in his Who’s Who entry. One of my earliest memories is of herding pigs; indeed, my wife has a picture in her bedroom of me doing so. I also remember—this still haunts me to this day—taking pigs to market. The trailer became detached from the vehicle that was pulling it.

Between 1997 and 2007, the size of the UK pig herd fell by 40 per cent. For every 10 pigs that we had in 1999, there are just six today. As well as having higher animal welfare standards than most of our competitors, British pig farmers have never received assistance from the common agricultural policy. The higher production costs that arise from higher welfare standards here were compounded by the rise in feed prices during 2007 and 2008. Prices have been relatively more stable in the past two years, but many pig farmers still struggle to repay the debts that were incurred during the very dark days of 2007 and 2008.

The industry, the Government and the rest of the supply chain must work together to ensure that we deliver the recommendation in Defra’s report on the British pig industry, which was published earlier this year, that the price that is paid to farmers properly reflects production costs and that labels are made clearer to show the country of origin and animal welfare and assurance standards. I strongly believe that the whole issue of food security is becoming ever more important.

The public sector food procurement initiative, which is otherwise known as the PSFPI, was launched in 2003 and aims to deliver a world-class, sustainable farming and food sector that contributes to a better environment and to healthier and more prosperous communities. It is a cross-departmental strategy that is led by Defra and intended to serve as guidance to all public bodies. Public sector food procurement in England accounts for spending of more than £2 billion each year on the food supply and catering services, and the PSFPI was established by the Government to harness this spending power and to advance certain priority objectives, which are set out in the Defra publication. These include: promoting animal welfare; promoting food safety, including high standards of hygiene; increasing the consumption of healthy and nutritious food; improving sustainability and the efficiency of production, processing and distribution; increasing tenders from small and local producers and their ability to trade; and increasing co-operation among buyers and suppliers and along the entire supply chain.

There is, by and large, broad public support for these objectives, including for local sourcing, for animal welfare and for quality and healthy food. In our changing food culture, this is only likely to increase to the point that consumers and public sector staff expect best-practice sourcing as a basic minimum for the food that they eat. Defra leads on this across government departments, and government figures show that a large proportion of publicly procured ham and bacon might not be produced to the animal welfare standards equivalent to those in the United Kingdom.

It is important that we build awareness of the high animal welfare standards that the United Kingdom deploys for pigs. Public bodies should also be made aware that, by importing pork or bacon without specifying welfare standards, they might be inadvertently supporting production that would be illegal in this country. Public bodies cannot discriminate in favour of domestic producers, as that is illegal under the European Union treaty and procurement directives. The Office of Government Commerce has produced a set of guidance notes to assist government departments and public sector organisations with this very task. The recent progress made by some departments in sustainable sourcing supports recommendations made by the Efra Select Committee that all government departments and public sector organisations should be encouraged to buy pigmeat raised to equivalent welfare standards to those in the United Kingdom.

The Government, sadly, are failing to support the United Kingdom industry when it comes to public procurement of pigmeat—as indeed is this House, as we heard from the chairman of the Refreshment Department only recently. Bacon is still woefully low, at only 36 per cent, while pork has seen a very sharp fall in the last year.

Clear, on-pack, country-of-origin labelling for pork and pork products is more than simply a matter of good housekeeping. With many retailers using imported pigmeat for a high proportion of the pork and pork products that they sell, it is vital that consumers are provided with the information that they need to make informed purchasing decisions. This is especially so as they would be shocked to hear that almost 70 per cent of imported pigmeat would be illegal had it been produced in this country. Furthermore, although much imported pigmeat would be illegal to produce in the UK, labelling rules still allow pigs reared and slaughtered in lower-welfare conditions in other countries, but processed here, to be labelled as British. Competition from these lower-welfare, lower-cost imports have made a major contribution to the 40 per cent decline in the UK breeding herd in the last 10 years.

Currently, EU pig producers are disadvantaged by being unable to use lower-cost GM soya in feed. With pressure on the cost of feed, the EU is considering amending its rules to allow its inclusion but, until this is achieved, pig producers will be burdened with much higher costs. Alternative sources of protein are already being considered, which would be capable of replacing soya, but at present they are proving not to be any more cost-effective. If barley prices had kept pace with inflation over the last 25 years, barley would be trading at around £200 a tonne, rather than exactly what it was 25 years ago. Had that happened, we would not have a pig industry in this country at all—a very frightening thought.

The closed periods for slurry applications to land mean that farmers have to store their slurries for at least a 20-week period. This is idiotic and will lead to some farmers leaving livestock farming altogether, as they simply cannot afford the capital outlay of slurry storage with no return. It is illogical, given that there are periods during the closed period that are normally dry and mild, when slurries could be so easily applied. It is also illogical as it means that a mass of slurry is applied on the first open day after a closed period. That creates a huge risk of pollution. These regulations take good farming practice decisions out of the hands of farmers, who are, after all, intelligent and skilled practitioners in what they do.

On some farms, slurry is pumped from pig units to an anaerobic digestion plant where it is combined with other waste from the food chain to produce renewable energy and biofertiliser. These types of plants are increasingly seen as one of the ways in which to help British farming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will take this type of project on board and will listen to some of the points that I have tried to highlight tonight.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for giving us the opportunity of this debate, which perhaps will be the last before we formally go into wash-up tomorrow. Like the noble Lord, I should declare our family farming interests. We used to run 120 breeding sows, which in my father-in-law’s time went to Wall’s and in later days went to Waitrose. We have known the pigs from birth through to where they end up for consumers to buy.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, rightly gave the figures of the alarming drop in the production of pigs in this country. It is frightening and, from a long-term viewpoint, is worrying as well. I appreciate that today we have to compete in a global market. Therefore, to a certain extent we are driven by global prices both when we sell and when we buy in terms of our input costs. Over this, we and the Government have little control. I am very proud of our quality UK pig meat production, which, as the noble Lord has indicated, receives no financial assistance from the Government. It has been very proud to be independent and to run its own affairs.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, referred to the failure of the House of Lords to take on enough British bacon and pork. When one goes to the canteen, which I certainly will not mention, sausages are high on the list of what noble Lords eat. I hope that a big proportion of those, if not all of them, are British. I should be interested to hear what the Minister has to say on that.

I have put my thoughts into a number of sections: the first is the size of the sow herd; the second is consumer choice, particularly with regard to labelling; the third is regulations; and the fourth is public procurement and encouragement. Finally, in response to the question asked by the noble Lord, I will turn to what action the Government have taken in response to all that.

As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said, herd sizes are down dramatically. In 1990, there were 12,600, which went down to a mere 6,000 by 2003. The number of breeding sows reduced dramatically from 800,000 to 475,000 by 2003. In 2009, that was not much better at 440,000.

Why should that matter? The reduction in the quality breeding stock from what it was to what it is now is hugely worrying in maintaining good blood lines, let alone the basic numbers of pigs necessary for the industry. Global prices for pigs and pig meat slumped dramatically in 2007 and again, particularly, in 2008, which was after a not very good beginning even before that. Even the most efficient UK producers in those years lost money and many had to decide whether they would remain in or exit the industry. I have to tell the Minister that sadly we lost quite a few good, economical, commercial producers who said that they could not weather the storm, which they said was one stage too far.

On consumer choice, whoever we are dealing with tells us that it is all up to the consumer. But the consumers need to know where they are going. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, implied that in his comments, and at the top of my list is clear labelling. When a person goes to buy something, they need to know what product they are buying, where it is from and, I hope, the country of origin. For me it is a matter of regret that two, if not three, Private Members’ Bills started in the House of Commons by Conservative Members on the whole question of labelling and country of origin have been thwarted by the Government. They either talked them out or did not want to take the issue on board. I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that that was a great mistake.

The correct labelling of country of origin would enable people to judge for themselves. I am not someone who says that people must buy British because we are in a global market, but they should at least be able to recognise from the label on a product where the meat was originally produced. Identification is hugely important, and I know that recently the European Union has come forward with some thoughts on the issue. When he responds, can the Minister bring us up to date on what is happening with labelling in Europe because I know that the issue has been raised?

I am old-fashioned, but I worry that a commodity that has been produced abroad but brought into this country for processing or having value added to it in any way can then carry UK authority on it. That is not right. It was not right originally, it is not right today and it will not be right tomorrow. Let us hope that a new Government—it is a commitment of the Conservative Party—will tackle the whole question of labelling. As I say, I do not contend that we must buy British, but for goodness sake we must be allowed correct labelling so that we know the country of origin, whether or not something has been further processed here in the UK.

Quality Standard Mark pork labelling offers a good steer for people when they buy their meat. Indeed, over recent years we have seen producers gaining ground if they promote local issues. When we were in Southwold earlier in the year, I was delighted to note that one of the local restaurants clearly identified where all its food came from. The menu said, “Pork—two miles up the road”, and so on. Again, it is important that people are offered some identification. However, I would suggest to the noble Lord that catering is another issue altogether.

I move on to regulations. Cross-compliance on farm inspections and the overlap we see on these inspections really needs to be reviewed. In addition we have seen the IPPC rules and regulations come in, along with the waste and nitrates directives. A lot is coming through for farmers to cope with. I am not against regulation, but it should be relevant, proportionate and subject to review. On the cost of IPPC implementation for UK farmers, can the Minister tell us what has happened to, say, farmers in Denmark?

I should like also to raise the whole question of building improvements. The Minister will know that it used to be possible to get an agricultural buildings allowance which in 2007 his Government decided to do away with. The allowance will expire in 2011. This has made a big difference to people because they would have invested in and improved their buildings in the future. I am surprised that the Government have not responded by changing their minds about this.

I turn briefly to public procurement, and here I think that the Government’s record is woeful. On 4 February 2009 the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, asked a Question that was responded to by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which recorded that only 25 per cent of all bacon was British, a percentage that has risen to only 29 per cent. Pork of British origin stood at 65 per cent and has now risen to 74 per cent. The figures are appalling, and are particularly worrying as regards bacon and ham. The 2007 BPEX annual report on imports stated that 70 per cent of pigmeat imported from the EU, not from other countries, would not be allowed to be produced in the way it is by UK producers. We trade globally, but surely we should be able to trade fairly. The situation we find ourselves in today is unacceptable.

I turn now to the sixth point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. He asked what the Government are doing. I believe that they could do better on public procurement; that they should have brought forward instead of ditching and in fact opposing legislation on labelling; that our regulations should be relevant and proportionate; and that businesses should be free to do what they can do best. I would like to see the reinstatement of the agricultural building allowance scheme. Lastly, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, because there is not time to go into detail, as regards the use of GM crops in this country, our farmers have extra costs not having them.

All is not doom and gloom. We have a wonderful industry in this country. The national pig association, BPEX, does a tremendous job for us, as does LIPS, the ladies who do so much for promoting pigs and the pig industry, and more recently, in 2009, Jamie Oliver and his programme, “Jamie Saves Our Bacon”. Local restaurants, local people and local initiatives could make a huge difference and I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this tonight.

My Lords, I have acute sinusitis and I apologise if somewhere in my speech it takes me over. It is a long time since I have been involved with the British pig industry. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has brought this to the attention of the House. I managed a farm in Perthshire on an estate with 70 sows producing 600 bacon pigs. In those days, the pig cycle, which ran for four years, was a classic economic model. Sometimes prices were up, sometimes they were down. The amazing thing is that this pig cycle vanished in 1998. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, explained some of the reasons for that. It is now not as predictable as it once was but you could make some money out of pigs, somewhere in the pig cycle, in the past. We took the pigs right through from birth to bacon. The quality was superb and when we got a good price we were making a profit. In the price dip we made significant losses. It is a classic supply and demand cycle of the case that was mastered by JK Galbraith, the economist who famously was brought up on a dairy farm in Ontario and was of Scots origin.

I studied the system academically, and I came to realise that 80 per cent of the variable cost of production in my pig production at that time was in the cost of feed, cereals and grain, and the volume of that was substantial. The opportunity cost of feeding cereals to pigs when our grain could be sold well on the open market, and sometimes malting barley for example, just did not add up in the lean years. Reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that this enterprise was taking the rest of the farm down on occasions. It was a 1,500 acre farm and it was an easy decision, as the farm was better suited to beef, sheep, arable and developing two dairy herds.

Noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that I discovered latterly that the British pig industry was in substantial decline. Certainly from my own experience that does not surprise me. On examining the situation, the impact of legislation on the banning of sow stalls, which I certainly agree with, and the nefarious practices of the supermarkets had undermined the marketing of quality British pigs since the time I was involved.

The technical advances in breeding, welfare and feed utilisation have been excellent, but the rewards have not matched the time, expertise and know-how of the British pig producers. At one time in my own country of Wales, many farmers formed co-operatives of pig weaner groups, keeping sows and marketing weaner pigs to fattener/finishing enterprises in the arable areas. That, too, has gone by the board. The development of large-scale outdoor pig enterprises has improved welfare and produced good quality pigs, so the pig farmers have done their bit and, in spite of all these desirable improvements, the UK pig industry remains in decline.

The reasons for decline have been given by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. However, it is astonishing that from 1998 until today, the number of sows in the country has almost halved. Indeed, the combination of reasons for this occurring, with welfare legislation not being rewarded by retailers and the Government not enforcing their commitment to ensure welfare standards that should be rewarded by the market, means that the result has been a free-for-all and more imports have come into the country.

Pigmeat supply chains have been admitted to be dysfunctional, and the result has been the exploitation of primary producers. Indeed, from time to time, increases in feed prices have not been compensated either. The impact of foot and mouth and swine fever has also played its part. The pigmeat supply chain task force has been an interesting matter, which has come forward as an initiative by Defra. Why we have to wait until now to have such an organisation to look at the whole supply chain I am not quite sure, when a massive amount of imports have come in for a long time from Brazil and EU countries, all with lower welfare standards. Even the public sector food initiative cannot control it, with only one-third of UK bacon and two-thirds of UK pork being of UK origin in public sector purchases. Low-energy, lower environmental impact buildings are important, yet we have lost the agricultural buildings allowance. What we want is fair treatment for the pig industry and, indeed, retailers to market whole pigs and not just choice parts of them. Indeed, the pig is a wonderful animal, and most of it can be consumed.

I congratulate the Government on the creation of the pigmeat supply chain task force. The first overall report, produced this February, covered sub-groups’ and workstreams’ reports, food labelling, public sector procurement, pig herd health, environmental requirements, research and development and supply chain co-operation. These are all extremely important to the industry, but it is coming very late in the day. The real worry to me is the uncontrolled power of the big four supermarkets, with 80 per cent of the retail market. The supermarket retail ombudsman has taken ages to install. We Liberal Democrats ran a six-year campaign to get a fair deal for British farmers through the ombudsman; even now the ombudsman is not fully installed, and I should like the Minister to tell us what is happening in that respect.

The big four are really only interested in their bottom line. They are run by accountants and that is their main observation. The discounting of primary produce is against UK producers’ viability, not just in pigmeat but in dairy produce. Seven producers a week are going out of business, our ewe flock is down 20 per cent, beef is in short supply and the UK is only 60 per cent self-sufficient in temperate food. Now we pay £23 billion in a time of great stringency to import food that we could produce ourselves here in the UK. The next Government, of whatever colour, must take urgent action, because the nemesis on the horizon is that we will not be secure in our food supply. That is an extremely urgent matter, given that the world’s population will rise from 6 billion to 9 billion half way through this century.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, on securing this debate, the last set-piece debate of this Parliament, if I am not mistaken. I declare an interest as a member of the NFU, which has submitted a briefing, and as a farmer, although we keep no pigs. In that latter declaration lies clues to the changes that the pig industry has undergone. We kept a pig or two and every farmer kept a few pigs; fed on waste, they were part of farming activity and country living. However, the buildings which we used to house the pigs are now rather smart offices, and thus things change.

I shall not turn to Wodehouse and his Empress of Blandings, but the fictional world of Lord Emsworth—not known, I believe, to have taken his place here—epitomised pig-keeping in the pre-intensive era. I remember the defunct local pig club, whose assets were used to fund a local playing field some 40 years ago. I wonder how many accounts still lie dormant across the country, memorials to a time when keeping a pig was an integrated social activity. These are different times and modern pig production, as my noble friend Lady Byford and the noble Lords, Lord Palmer and Lord Livsey, described, is a very different business. That is the operative word; it is now a business, and the Government should regard it as such.

Despite better recent returns and profitability, the industry remains vulnerable and volatile. Added to the conventional pig cycle of our economic textbooks are the pressures of increased fuel and feed costs. When feed, which represents 50 per cent of the cost of production, spiked in 2007, there was an immediate decline to widespread loss-making in the industry. More problematic has been the differential with other pig producers on animal welfare standards. In 1999, the UK quite rightly introduced a ban on tethers and close-confinement stalls for breeding sows. Pig World magazine has estimated that the move from stalls to loose housing with straw costs the industry £323 million. BPEX, the British Pig Executive, claimed that this added 6.4p per kilo to the ongoing costs of production. Even if that is disputed, the costs of British production and welfare standards undoubtedly place us at a disadvantage.

Noble Lords have talked of the decline that there has been in British sow herds; as a result, the industry is no longer able to supply the market here in the UK—added to which, there were outbreaks of classic swine fever, in 2000, and foot and mouth disease, in 2001 and again in 2007. Both of those hit the industry hard, leading to movement restrictions and the closures of export markets. There has been a slow recovery, but this is a difficult industry to be in because continued competition from cheaper imports within the EU means that the British pig industry has lower and less efficient production than its EU counterparts. As a result, parts of the retail, hospitality and public sectors choose to buy the cheaper products from overseas producers. We know this from the debates initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, who is not in his place but who has presented a series of Questions on this issue to the Chairman of Committees. We only have to look at the River Room, where none of the bacon or sausages is actually from British produce.

Food labelling of pigmeat products has been described as ambiguous. People are not sure whether they are buying domestic pigmeat; labelling often does not tell the consumer whether the meat was raised to British standards of welfare. The industry believes that more accurate and helpful labelling would enable the consumer to make more informed choices about the pigmeat that they wish to eat. The financial and administrative burden placed on the producer by environmental regulations, in particular the integrated pollution prevention and control directive, and the waste and nitrate directives, has meant that pig farmers are faced with constantly having to combat what are, quite rightly, those public interest directives.

As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has said, pig producers are proud of their welfare standards and would not wish to return to the use of stalls, but they had expected both government and retailers to play their part and meet the pledges they made at the time always to source pork to equivalent UK welfare standards. Unfortunately, the reality has been very different and retailers later found it to be commercially unpalatable to source their imports from stall-free systems. Under pressure, they quietly reneged on their commitments. In 2005, the British Pig Executive estimated that at least 70 per cent of the pigmeat imported into this country would be illegal to produce in the UK due to our welfare rules. The British pig industry has been decimated partly as a result of being undercut by cheaper, lower welfare imports. This has more or less halved the national herd. The figures have been mentioned by all noble Lords who have spoken.

An additional concern is the EU stance on animal welfare in the WTO negotiations. In the interests of free trade the EU must not concede on animal welfare and puts its livestock producers in a position where it cannot block the import of meat below current and future EU welfare standards. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is right to say that honest labelling is essential if British farmers are not to be put at an acute disadvantage in a highly competitive market.

Mention has been made of the supply chain. There have no doubt been many analyses of this, not least by the Defra Select Committee report in December 2008. I should be interested to hear from the Minister the Government’s response to that report and what they have done as a result. The Government could take other measures to help the pig industry such as getting the Office of Fair Trading to provide clear guidance on permitted supply chain discussions. At the moment, as the Minister will understand, there are restrictions on the way in which the industry can combine in its price negotiations with supermarkets. Above all, we need a Government who will seek to ease the burden of regulation on all farmers and growers.

The good news is that the NFU and the Environment Agency have launched a pig and poultry assurance scheme to reduce the effect of the environmental permitting regulations on farms by about £850 per annum. This must be the way forward. It will result in a fall in Environment Agency charges consequent on farms attaining a high state of compliance with the regulations. Inspections will be reduced to one a year from the current three. Those inspections will be carried out by the certification bodies using staff trained by the EA. The new scheme is supported by Assured Food Standards, the National Pig Association, the British Poultry Council and the British Egg Industry Council. Following the successful introduction of the voluntary initiative, it is to be expected that the scheme will work well, but £850 per farm will not resuscitate the industry all by itself, albeit it is a very worthwhile development.

I anticipate that the Minister will make it clear that the Government know all about this. What the UK’s pig farmers are looking for is a Government who actually believe in them and create an environment in which they can be a competitive and successful supplier to the British consumer and make sure that it is British bacon and British sausage on the plate at breakfast.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for securing it and introducing it in such a clear and forthright manner. I recognise the points that he made in his opening contribution.

Everyone has declared an interest and I have an interest in pigs as well, albeit a minor one. My younger son took all his holiday jobs with a local farmer, Peter Ashley, who wrote regularly in the farming press and was a good employer. He introduced my son to pigs and I learnt a great deal, not least the sheer joy of working with animals that are so intelligent and so rewarding to herd and look after. I was unable to sustain that interest to quite such an extent until I arrived at Defra. I greatly enjoy the opportunities that debates such as this provide for extending my knowledge, as I derive insights from all parts of the House.

I recognise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, that for many years the UK pig industry has struggled with poor pig prices, cheap imports, old buildings due to lack of investment and the problems of herd health. This led to a 40 per cent decrease in the UK pig herd and a 36 per cent decrease in production over the past decade. That trend is reversing. Noble Lords have been fair in contributing to this debate in seeing hopeful signs for the future. For the first time in more than a decade, the UK pig industry finds itself in profitability over this last year. Pig farming rose substantially in 2008-09 and the expected income for the year ending February 2010 will undoubtedly continue this trend, although we do not yet have the figures available. The increases have mainly been driven by rising pig prices. The average monthly finished pig prices have shown year-on-year increases since September 2007. There are also some reductions in import costs, particularly for feed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the rather challenging issue of GM soil and GM foods. We support the principle underlying the existing EU controls that allow market access for GM products provided that they pass a robust case-by-case safety assessment. The British public expect us to approach GM foods and feed in these terms. I appreciate that other parts of the world move more rapidly in this direction than Europe. The UK is not at the back of the train in Europe; we reflect a general European anxiety about the issues of GM foods, which means that these things are decided on a case-by-case basis. We are pleased that, through pressure from the British Government, the speed in agreeing that certain GM products can be used has improved in recent months.

The weaker pound against the euro also played its part in helping to underpin pig prices in sterling. For example, in 2008 the cost of production for UK pigs increased by 12 per cent but the increase for the rest of Europe was almost twice that. The comparative competitive position has improved as far as the UK is concerned.

I accept that the industry has been starved of funding for many years during the periods of unprofitability. The investment going in now is much needed. We recognise the points emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in his opening remarks and supported by other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate that there are barriers to sustained profitability. The issue of the economic resilience of the industry must be addressed. I will indicate some helpful ways in which we are tackling those issues and the progress being made.

The EFRA Committee inquiry, reflected on in this debate, identified some important issues and all sectors of the pigmeat supply chain gave evidence to it. The inquiry concluded that there should be more co-operation between all segments of the pigmeat supply chain.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, asked why the establishment of the supply chain task force did not take place earlier. The stimulus came from the careful analysis that EFRA carried out, but there had to be the will on the part of the industry because this is a partnership in which all must play their part. The pigmeat supply chain task force was established in February 2009 for one year's intensive work on how to improve the industry. It brought together all the key players in the industry, and a great deal has been achieved.

I have a simple question. There are 18 members of the task force. Only one represents consumers. Six represent producers and five represent the big four supermarkets. Would the Minister say that that is an equitable situation?

The key issue is the quality of the work being done, and the progress that has been made by the task force. There is no doubt that it has achieved a great deal during its year. The task force agreed a number of measures that commend themselves to the House, judging by the contributions to this evening’s debate. The task force was concerned about the competitiveness and environmental performance of the industry. This endorses the important point emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, about the voluntary code of practice to provide clearer labelling, which will benefit consumers and the supply chain. New guidance will assist public sector procurers to buy better-quality pigmeat products that meet higher welfare standards. There is no doubt that labelling of great importance to that. There is not much point in us producing a higher-quality product if people are not able to choose it because it is not accurately labelled. Nor is there much incentive for those who produce to lower standards to improve them if they can produce a less expensive product that is not identified as not having reached the right standards.

We will have to wait until 2013 before these full standards are adopted across Europe: it is a long lead-in time. We wanted this to happen a great deal more quickly, but the price of getting the agreement of Europe to this position was a longer lead-in time than we would have liked. However, I hope that noble Lords will recognise that it is a very important step forward, and that the labelling issue is of great importance, particularly as the supermarkets have a significant role to play.

I am grateful to the Minister. Is it not a pity that, in 12 years of government, the Government have blocked Private Members' Bills that have been put forward to improve labelling and give people more choice? It must be one of the things that the Minister regrets, because it would have made such a difference.

Yes, but labelling is only part of this. We need the totality of the position endorsed. Certainly there is no point in talking about labelling unless you have a clear idea of how supermarkets are going to go about their job.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, asked about the supermarket ombudsman. This, too, is an important proposal, but anybody who thinks that one can achieve success in that area with a mere snap of governmental or ministerial fingers is misunderstanding the issue. It will take time before we have in place a code that will work for the ombudsman. We need agreement on the principle behind that. The code of practice came into force on 4 February and we have launched a consultation on how to enforce the code of practice under the role of the ombudsman. I accept entirely noble Lords' impatience with regard to this crucial issue, but it should be recognised how much progress is being made.

The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, identified the particular dimension of slurry. We welcome the pig industry's engagement on the use of slurry in anaerobic digestion, which has great potential. This was identified by the task force as a very important opportunity for the pig industry, and we are making progress in that area. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for having raised the point.

The task force has now finished its work, but the work it began continues, led by the pig industry itself. The sector will benefit, for example, from agreed measures designed to enhance herd health and biosecurity, and from greater collaborative working between the industry and regulators to make it less complex for pig farmers to comply with environmental regulations.

We welcome the improved buoyancy of the pig industry, and we must take advantage of these opportunities to press ahead. It means that there are barriers to be overcome. There is no doubt that there are aspects regarding the European position into which we need to put as much effort as we can to ensure that our European partners hit the same standards in their industries as we enjoy in Britain.

The important question of procurement was also raised. Noble Lords were kind enough to identify that even the House itself for which we all take responsibility —and there are quite a few noble Lords with discrete responsibilities—is not wholly clear with regard to its procurement policies. There is no doubt at all that we need to draw attention to this. Labelling will be of the greatest assistance in showing just what is being purchased, but there also has to be a will to ensure that what is recognised as identified by the label is a higher standard of product from the British industry. That is why the purchase should be made, even if at times it is not directly price competitive, because of the factors which have rightly been identified.

As far as Defra is concerned, lest noble Lords think I am shying away from my own direct responsibilities—and I am on the Refreshment Committee of the House of Lords so I am fairly guilty there as well—95 per cent of the bacon was sourced from domestic producers in the past year. We are certainly making sure that as far as possible we get close to 100 per cent compliance, and I look forward to being able to report on that in due course.

We acknowledge the work the industry itself has put into overcoming the challenges it has faced over the past decade. It is the case that a great deal needs to be done, but this debate has helped to identify the areas in which we now need to make progress, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, for having introduced it.

My Lords, before the Minister sits down—by leave of the House with the time limit not being exceeded, and declaring an interest as an NFU member and a landowner—he has not answered the point of many speakers: the progress on food labelling has been appalling since the Government came to power. There is all this talk about the ombudsmen; after 12 years it seems that very little progress has been made on food labelling.

If the noble Lord had paid close attention to our position, I have identified the steps by which we have moved towards establishing the issue of food labelling. He will know that this is part of a European perspective: the whole issue about this industry is that we cannot look upon the pig industry as just a UK issue. It relates very much to the competitive position with Europe, and unless we get labelling which identifies the British product and is also accepted as far as the European perspective is concerned as well, we are no further forward.

The noble Lord appears to think that these issues are easily tackled. They are not. We needed to get the industry together to address these issues and put its full weight behind these operations, and that is exactly the position we are in. This is despite the fact that a great deal needs to be done.

When it comes to the question of regulation, I hope the noble Lord is not suggesting for one moment that the pig industry was in a heavily regulated position and such regulation just needs a minor tweak and the issues are there. It is exactly the opposite. The pig industry operated for a great period of time completely within the market without regulation, and we have had to work hard with the industry in the taskforce to adopt the kind of regulation that can be effective.