Pig Industry

Part of the debate – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 4:15 pm on 5th October 1998.

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Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP 4:15 pm, 5th October 1998

I accept that, but I feel it is important to make clear that we are dealing with a very serious crisis. There are people in the province who are about to "go over the top" mentally, who are about to commit suicide because of this situation.

The Government, the European Union and the banks must do something now. This is not something that can be dealt with further down the line. They must do something now to help this industry out of this crisis.

The pig industry problem is not a problem the pig farmers created for themselves. It is true that there is overproduction and a glut of pigs throughout Europe. But in Northern Ireland, at the very time when there was overproduction across Europe, the Government and the Department of Agriculture were aiding another processing factory to expand its kill in the Province.

Let us get the facts absolutely clear. The pig industry was encouraged to increase its production here. The Industrial Development Board encouraged many of the pig farmers to take out bank loans so they could put up bigger houses and increase their production. The farmers are innocent of any part in this crisis and should be helped to face it.

The second part of the problem was the fire at the Agivey processing plant which, tragically, took place at a time when the industry was going through problems across Europe. One night 40% of our kill capacity was wiped out. From that moment on, there was a dramatic change in pig prices. On 20 June, when the fire took place, Northern Ireland pig farmers were being paid about 85p per kilogram, a reasonable payback for their hard work. But from that time onwards there was a decrease in the amount that pig farmers were paid.

After the fire at the Agivey processing plant, there was a total lack of communication between Maltons and the pig farmers facing a processing crisis. Any blame ought to rest with those who should have been consulting and assisting the farmers — many of them faithful Maltons producers. But very few pigs — sometimes no pigs — were removed from their farms despite Maltons promise to take 4,000 pigs across the water each week.

Let us look at the facts. There were weeks when not one pig was sent across the water to England. On most weeks it averaged 2,000 pigs — not the promised 4,000. At the time of the fire the pig price was 85p per kilogram. Then it dropped to 78p, then to 60p, and last week to 50p. What else has happened during this time? A grading system was introduced as another way of lowering the price to the producer. One pig producer averaged 46·3p per kilogram, yet pigs, sent to other factories in the province, fetched 63·52p per kilogram. The difference between what has been paid at Maltons processing plant at Cookstown and what has been paid by other factories in the province is 17·22p. This difference of £12 per pig is a disgrace. While farmers are going bankrupt, someone is making a fat kill. The housewife is not paying less for her bacon, yet the farmers are getting a pittance. They are losing £20 per pig. No farmer can sustain such a loss. The Assembly must identify who is making the profit, and that is why this issue is before us today.

It is interesting that the pig producers in the Irish Republic are paid approximately 10p — £7 per pig — more than the Northern Ireland producers. They are coming from the Irish Republic to the Malton factory in Cookstown and getting £7 per pig more than producers here. Surely there is something wrong with such a situation, even allowing for other fluctuations such as the 2p per kilogram VAT refund. Northern Ireland farmers were getting 50p and under for their pigs while pigs coming from the Irish Republic were worth 59·4p. That surely is wrong at a time of crisis.

The Industrial Development Board is paying money from our Exchequer to ensure that the producers from the Irish Republic get more than the producers in Northern Ireland. In fact 1,000 more pigs were taken in Cookstown from the South of Ireland, thus depressing the market further for pigs produced by Northern Ireland farmers.

To add insult to injury, at the weekend the ‘Mid-Ulster Mail’ and the ‘News Letter’ reported Maltons as saying that it was paying over the odds and that Northern Ireland farmers were getting more for pigs. This came out of a meeting between the Ulster Unionists and Maltons, and the public relations exercise by Maltons was bought hook, line and sinker by someone. Maltons is not paying over the odds. In fact they are undercutting the farmers in my constituency and paying more to those coming from the Irish Republic. I resent that. Also, while farmers here are getting 50p for their pigs, those across the water are getting 70p. This is wrong. We demand equal treatment for our farmers from this company. They should get a just reward for all the hard work that they have put in. It is about time this firm faced the reality that the farmers are having to face.

The Government have done precious little to help the farmers. The French Government in similar circumstances brought in an initial measure for farmers in difficulty and other financial aids, yet our farmers got nothing.

We need to research this issue. The farmer gets a miserable pittance for his pig, the housewife pays exorbitant prices and in between are the processors and the supermarkets. Where is the fat cat? Who is getting the money? It is about time the housewife and the farmer got their share.