Preventing and preparing the pig industry for any new or exotic diseases was at the heart of The 20:20 Pig Health and Welfare Strategy, launched by BPEX this week.

Speaking at the Farmers Club, Whitehall, BPEX’s veterinary programme manager, Derek Armstrong said the industry could “ill afford a new disease”.

“In 1998-2003 pig meat output fell by more than 40%. While pig price and lack of access to investment undoubtedly contributed, three health challenges played a huge part – the new Porcine Circovirus disease, PDNS and PMWS.”

And the effect of swine fever and Foot and Mouth disease further helped in the contraction of the industry.

“The industry can ill afford the introduction of a hot strain of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome or another outbreak of CSF or FMD,” he said.

As such the strategy places a strong emphasis on early detection of new diseases, identification and action to eliminate disease, as well as biosecurity to limit spread off and on to pig farms.

Speaking in support of the strategy, Nigel Gibbens, chief veterinary officer for DEFRA said by improving farm biosecurity against endemic diseases, it would also help guard against exotic disease, should it happen.

Mr Armstrong further stressed that at a time when pig farmers were being squeezed between high input costs and low pig price, the industry was extremely vulnerable to potential health challenges.

Quoting the Shawshank Redemption, he said the industry had faced a stark choice: “It’s time to start living or start dying. If you think I am being over dramatic, then think back to what happened between 1998 and 2003 – if we lose another 40% of the industry and the allied industries that support it, we will lose critical mass.

“The pig industry is much more resilient now than it was then. What the strategy says is that the pig industry has chosen its future, it has chosen life.”

Mr Armstrong recognised that the challenge now was to make the 20:20 vision a reality and only by implementing on farm would the strategy be judged a success.