Posted by: secretperson | March 4, 2008

Save Pig Farmer’s Bacon (says Bacon)

Five hippies protesting about an airport – lots of coverage. Thousands protesting about the EU treaty – next to nothing. Hundreds of pig farmers? Well we’ll see, but as an excuse to put pictures of animals up, the BBC news has a report before the protest even happens.

Now I am not complaining I have sympathy for the farmers. Rising grain prices have put up the cost of rearing animals and supermarkets act as consortiums in buying, forcing proces down. Alternatively, meat can be imported cheaply from abroad and the sort of people who can afford to buy organic probably wouldn’t buy more expensive British pork out of patriotism, although maybe if we told them it was about air miles?

Anyway, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which subsidises farmers doesn’t seem to help ours, and the competition will come largely from other EU countries I assume, because of the EU’s protectionism. And, as the Beeb point out

British farmers also abide by stricter welfare regulations than those in other EU countries, making their pigs more expensive to rear.

So we insist on having our pigs raised in nice conditions, all very admirable. But if that forces farmers out of business and we end up importing more pork from pigs raised in bad conditions it is self-defeating. It is typical small picture thinking and abrogation of moral responsibility. I feel another rant coming on.

Now I don’t normally support subsidies for industries, they distort markets and prop up failing businesses simply delaying the inevitable collapse. Subsidies mean companies don’t need to adapt to the market, provide things people don’t want to buy and will eventually end up costing too much for government to support. Protectionist policies too can only protect from competition and force up prices for consumers. But this is a circumstance where some form of this may be necessary.

Surely if we insist on pig welfare standards in this country, it is completely reasonable to insist on the same standards for imported meat. Or reduce these standards so farmers can compete on a level playing field. Also subsidies to make up for the costs of government imposed standards are not distorting the market, the impositions of standards have already done that. So some kind of system to help the farmers is not unreasonable. Plus they have a job protecting our countryside and environment which is worth protecting.

No doubt anything to help would be illegal under EU law though, where only French farmers seem to get protection. There are things farmers could do as well. One is to form collectives (perhaps through the NFU to negotiate with the supermarkets who are too powerful. If you are losing £20 a pig refuse to sell! Secondly get campaigns going, encourage people to buy British (or even English!) and tell them that foreign meat has reduced welfare standards.

An Early Day Motion has called for support for the pig farming industry, by the perfectly named Conservative MP for South Norfolk, Richard Bacon.

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