Editorial Articles

Where next with 'real' assurance?

Pioneering has its price. Last century’s UK universal total ban on sow stalls and subsequent shameful betrayal by supermarkets was a painful experience, writes Paul Smith.  Many who had given their life’s work to the pig industry were forced out of production. Cut price European pig products flooded into the UK despite the illegality of the sow stall production systems in Britain. At the time, at the very best, product labelling was confusing and some would say dishonest. Consequently could consumers really be blamed for purchasing discounted imported pig products often emblazoned with the Union Flag?

Consumers now feel cheated because of the much publicised meat scams that they have suffered at the hands of those they trusted. Consequently, there is a new recognition and something bordering on respect for the way pigs are reared in the UK. That’s why consumer demand for UK sourced pork is at unprecedented levels even though Europe is well supplied with pigmeat. In the past, both globally active and UK based lobby groups have undervalued and undersold the high-welfare credentials of the British pig industry.

The timing of the ‘Horsegate’ scandal coincided with the widespread violation of the partial sow stall ban which was supposed to be implemented in Europe from January 2013. Currently, animal welfare organisations are campaigning for enforcement of the partial sow-stall ban within the EU, and they would like to see a total ban imposed so that pig welfare is improved and harmonised. There seems to be increasing evidence that influential animal welfare organisations are acknowledging the higher ground long occupied by the home pig industry and have an increased focus on production systems beyond these shores. These organisations are now pouring resources into food business teams which aim to impact on food retailers and caterers.

The whole pork chain must grasp the opportunity offered by a new common objective and adopt an attitude of listening and reconciliation. Eventually pioneering pays.

AssuranceThe UK pig industry was ahead of the pack when it recognised that modern consumers were more demanding and knowledgeable. In a pro-active mode, schemes such as the Malton Code and Assured British Pigs (ABP) were set-up to provide product assurance for consumers. This forward thinking helped kick start the establishment of Red Tractor Assurance and now 78,000 farmers and growers are part of the Red Tractor Assurance chain, as well as leading food supply businesses across the UK. In May 2011, Defra’s Task Force recognised that membership of an assurance scheme indicates that the business has a good level of competence and understanding of regulations. Red Tractor Assurance sets effective, internationally recognised production standards that apply to various product sectors and to different links in the food supply chain. The standards cover food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection, which are now an essential prerequisite to supplying all major retailers in the UK as well as an increasing number of leading food service operators.

The home pig industry has pinpointed the difficulty in measuring animal welfare on pig farms. It is tackling this by developing the concept of Real Welfare. This is an industry-led project funded by BPEX to help pig producers demonstrate pig welfare and boost productivity, using ‘welfare outcomes’ or ‘animal-based’ measures.

As from April 2013 there have been moves to make Real Welfare part of the Red Tractor farm assurance scheme. The concept involves the use of scientifically-robust welfare measures which assess what the pigs themselves are telling us, rather than just assessing the pen or environment imposed upon them.

There is, however, a gulf between assessing Real Welfare as measured by single-minded research scientists and the challenges faced by sharp-end veterinary surgeons making occasional and ‘instant’ on farm assessments.

The year 2013 was not an easy one for those involved in on farm assessment of Real Welfare. Everyone involved is on a challenging learning curve and there have been set-backs.

Chairman of the BPEX Board, Stewart Houston says: “We are trying to do something difficult that has never been done before. We have always said, and will continue to say, that we will keep whatever works well in the protocol and change the things that don’t work so well in order that they do.”
The fact that the European Commission is taking much interest in the project is a compliment to those with the foresight to see the need for and deliver the benefits of Real Welfare assessments.

Not everyone is a fan of the Red Tractor scheme. Sainsbury’s no longer sees the importance of displaying the Red Tractor logo on its pig product packaging. In effect, the supermarket believes that its own good name and the fact that customers can clearly identify the Union Flag is sufficient for customer needs.
In CIWF’s Compassionate Food Guide it registers its belief that the RSPCA’s Freedom Food Pork is in a different league to Red Tractor pork. Maybe the assessment of Real Welfare will change the thinking. Clearly there is much work to be done if the British pig industry is to maintain its lead on welfare. The Danes’ new Welfare Pig strategy is very likely the first of new initiatives from EU countries making the most of their compliance with the partial stall ban. That’s why it’s important to pioneer with Real Welfare and get it right.

Paul Smith, former co-editor of the Weekly Tribune, continues to contribute to the newsletter and other meat industry journals.

New strategy puts the focus on skills

A fresh approach to ‘professionalism in agriculture’ has been signalled by a new industry skills strategy developed by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board and the AgriSkills Forum and launched in November 2013.
It’s aims are: To provide a framework for skills development across all sectors of the industry, with key stakeholders working together to ensure a flexible, adaptable skills programme that is relevant to its needs and accessible at a local level.
As a result, this will help ensure:

  • A more profitable, sustainable and adaptable industry capable of meeting the future demands and challenges of agriculture and land management
  • An industry that recognises skills development and continual professional development is fundamental and integral to all businesses
  • An industry that has clear paths of progression for staff and simple access to demand-led provision, regardless of sector or location
  • A world class, competent, innovative and highly skilled workforce, at every level, whose professionalism is recognised and rewarded
  • An industry that forms a robust skills development partnership with the wider food chain and pursues joint working with government so there is maximum integration of policies and practice, with reduced repetition.

Richard Longthorp, chairman, Agri-Skills Forum management group
and chairman of the National Pig Association, writes:
“Professionalism” is a word that is used widely. But what does it actually mean?
Is it just about doing a job competently or doing it well? Is it to do with running or contributing to a successful and profitable business or organisation? Whilst all this is fundamental to defining professionalism, there is more. Being professional is not simply about being competent. It is also about being able to demonstrate that competence, its continuous review and on-going improvement. This process results not only in a better business but also helps inspire the confidence of others including society, employers or employees, new entrants and regulators. As well as helping to deliver a better bottom line, professionalism is one of the best ways we can promote our businesses and our industry. It is also one of the greatest ways we can defend it against those who would try and undermine us. With this strategy AHDB has addressed one of the most fundamental aspects of UK agriculture’s drive to become more competitive. A truly professional industry, operating within a supportive economic environment provided by an empathetic government, will undoubtedly be more competitive.”

BPEX has published a training and qualifications brochure to summarise opportunities on offer in the pig industry. See: www.bpex.co.uk
Skilled and enthusiastic people are the most important part of a successful pig business and the pig industry boasts a range of ways to train and learn new skills at every level, from stockperson through to pig unit manager.

Stockman Development Scheme aims to give an understanding of all aspects of breeding and finishing  husbandry and of the supply chain. It will appeal to existing stockpeople, or those new to the industry, seeking to improve their knowledge of pig production. It involves six one-day workshops or visits over a nine-month period from October to June. BPEX will issue a certificate of attendance or offer an assessment for Stage 2 Certificate of Competence qualification. Cost of the course is £125 (plus VAT).

Stock Plus is a programme of problem-solving workshops led by pig technical experts and designed to build on existing husbandry skills. This scheme is for stockpeople with significant experience or have completed the Stockman Development Programme or hold the Stage 2 Certificate. It is seen as a stepping stone to a supervisory or management role. Qualifications are similar to the SDS with the addition of a Stage 3 Certificate. As with SDS, there are six one-day workshops at a cost of £125 (plus VAT).

The Leadership Development Scheme covers planning, communication and people management skills. Work-based projects are carried out between the six one-day workshops. The scheme is designed for supervisors, assistant managers or stockpeople looking to move to a role which involves people as well as pigs. Successful completion of the course earns a Certificate in First Line Management (Level 3) from the Institute of Leadership and Management. The cost is £417 (plus VAT) for all workshop and assignment assessments.

One-day Leadership Courses focus on individual topics such as supervision, time management and decision making. Each day can be booked separately and costs £25 (plus VAT).
The Professional Manager Development Scheme combines management training sessions with work-based projects. It offers support to managers in implementing positive change in their businesses. Ten one-day training sessions over an 18-month period can lead to a Certificate of First Line Management (Level 5) from the ILM.
For further details contact Samantha Bowsher on 07976 980753.
In addition to these scheme the BPEX knowledge transfer team organises topical training workshops and meetings in local areas throughout the autumn and spring.
Specific arrangements can be made for units where several staff are employed.

Four companies have secured scholars from Harper Adams University to take part in the first Pig Industry Scholarship programme, which includes a paid industrial placement year. The new scholarship, a joint project between the university and BPEX, is seen as a practical step to help secure potential new entrants to the pig industry. Contact Samantha Bowsher at BPEX for more information: 07976 980753 or samantha.bowsher@bpex.ahdb.org.uk

The Pig Industry Professional Register provides a platform for the recognition of skills gained in the workplace. Listed among its aims are the establishment of an independent record of skill among its members and the recognition of experience and practical skills. There is a small registration fee and an annual membership subscription.  For more details contact The PIPR Support Team, City and Guilds Building 500, Abbey Park, Stareton, Warwickshire CV8 2LY. Tel: 02476 857300;
email pipr@cityandguilds.com; web www.pipr.org.uk

Pig specific courses are also run by a number of colleges - these include:
Sparsholt College – Pig Husbandry and Handling
Part time, 1 day  www.sparsholt.ac.uk/7158
Kingston Maurward College
Part time – evenings
Pig Production Course
Self study, no accreditation

Easton & Otley College
Agriculture Apprenticeship programme
Students out working on pig farms
Harper Adams – Pig Industry Scholarship Programme
First year – six companies involved; 35 students applied for scholarships
Four companies secured scholarship students for summer 2014