I met Mr. Stuart Houston, the chairman of the National Pig Association, at Morrisons' new abattoir in Spalding, which I was privileged to open last week. We discussed the progress of the pigmeat supply chain taskforce, whose first meeting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State opened on
Has the Minister seen the figure that suggests that 60 per cent. of imported pigmeat does not meet the same animal welfare standards as the pigmeat produced here? Rather than complaining about costs, should we not use this to our advantage and work with producers and retailers to achieve better labelling and to promote the best pigmeat in Europe?
I entirely agree. There is ample evidence that British consumers actively choose products that have been raised to higher welfare standards. For example, sales of free range eggs continue to grow, even in the challenging economic climate in which we find ourselves. One of the sub-groups of the taskforce that we have established will examine the role of labelling and investigate the progress that we could make through greater transparency to ensure that British consumers are not misled by labels that allow produce raised to lower welfare standards being passed off as British.
Holderness in my constituency has historically been the home of pig farming in England but, like most of the country, it has seen a collapse in production over the past 12 years. Pig farmers in my constituency will welcome what the Minister has just said about labelling, but they are frustrated that this has taken so long. We have a taskforce now, but it has been clear for a long time that meat from abroad that does not meet our welfare standards can none the less, after having a bit of work done to it, be sold as British meat. We must ensure that we reduce the regulations for our farmers so that their high-welfare meat can be properly labelled and thus attract the higher price that it deserves.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I have met a probably quite significant number of his constituents who have made that very point. That is why the work of this taskforce will be very important. I note his lament that we did not get working sooner than we did, but I assure him that the taskforce is very focused on bringing about practical outcomes that will materially assist pig farmers to counter the damaging imports of products that are then passed off as British products.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the register. The Government have been promising this for 10 years. At the Oxford farming conference in January, the Secretary of State said:
"A pork pie made in Britain from Danish pork can legitimately be labelled as a British pork pie. That's a nonsense, and it needs to change."
He went on to say that discussions with supermarkets were taking place and that a voluntary agreement would be made. We know, because the supermarkets have said it, that there is no voluntary agreement in sight. For all the Minister's talk of taskforces and meetings, we know that this is just more talk and no action. Is it not time that the Government took another look at our honest food campaign and adopted it today?
I have followed the campaign with interest and I welcome the fact that it is raising the profile of British produce and expressing concerns about the potential for British customers to be misled. I do not feel challenged by it in the way the hon. Gentleman might hope, however, because I believe that the actions we are taking will lead to real proposals that will bring about material differences for the pig sector. What we have to do is work not just with pig farmers but with the whole supply chain so that each part of the chain, including British consumers, takes on board its responsibilities to ensure that where choice is exercised, it works to the benefit of British farmers.