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UK Politics

Picture Post: The whole hog, Whitehall, 04.03.08

This little piggy went to market, this little piggy went... to Westminster. Meet Winnie, the nine-year-old sow, photographed here, who trotted into the capital yesterday to draw attention to the dire straits the British pork industry finds itself in.

She was accompanied by several hundred pig farmers, who, alarmed at plummeting pork prices, presented a petition at Downing Street demanding support for their trade. Consumers may have plenty of cheap bacon but the effect of the increasingly low price for each pig sent for the slaughter is huge numbers of pig farmers leaving the industry. Protesters yesterday were describing the porcine trade as being "in meltdown".

Raising the price of pork in shops and supermarkets would solve part of the problem – the National Pig Association claims that adding between seven and 17p to standard packets of bacon, pork and sausages would be sufficient to secure the industry's future. But experts say that although many supermarkets have raised their prices significantly, few of those extra pennies are making their way back to farmers.

On top of meagre profits, pig farmers are also beholden to international grain prices – which have rocketed in the past year – and competition from pig farmers in other EU countries, who rear their animals to lower welfare standards than are mandatory in the UK. According to the chairman of the British Pig Executive, two-thirds of all imported pork products would be illegal if produced in the UK. Jimmy Doherty, mate of Jamie Oliver and pig-farming presenter of Jimmy's Farm, says the industry is at "crisis point", with farmers losing £27 for every pig they rear. Winnie, though, unlike her friends destined for the slaughterhouse, has been invaluable to the pig industry. No stranger to activism, in 2000 she spent four months camped outside Parliament (and its infamous "troughs") campaigning against supermarkets passing off cheap imported pork as British produce. Ever since, Winnie has become a mascot, saving her own bacon – if not yet the pig farmers'.