By Peter Crichton

MARGARET Beckett, the new Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs minister made her first major announcements affecting the pig industry in the House of Commons on Thursday, two weeks after election day.

Two main issues have been focusing the minds of all involved in the pig industry and these are the resumption of exports and the relaxation of pig movement restrictions.

Although in her statement Margaret Beckett failed to make any specific reference to an early resumption of UK pig meat exports, she did announce that there would be some relaxations concerning pigs caught up in foot-and-mouth infected areas.

Her announcement will allow producers on welfare grounds only to move pigs under licence from an at risk area (ARA) to a provisionally free area (PFA) and also between one PFA and another.

Pigs trapped in foot-and-mouth infected areas can also be moved to nominated abattoirs outside a 10km surveillance zone under licence.

The National Pig Association has welcomed these relaxations and many producers who have large numbers of store and finished pigs stacked up on their units, should be able to start moving stock subject to veterinary and welfare backing.

However, more disappointing is the lack of any signs of movement on the export front. Trade sources believe that it is unlikely the minister will commit to naming a date when these are due to start, although late July had been pencilled in as a possibility.

If and when any form of export activity gets under way, this should help ease the pressure on the cull sow market where prices have collapsed and are returning producers no more than 25-35 for the average sow. Cull boars have proved virtually impossible to move, with the only option being to send them to the welfare disposal scheme price for 30 a head.

Brussels failed to back a bid for exceptional market support measures to try and shore up the cull sow and manufacturing pig market. It seems that this has now been dismissed and NPA members are fuming that although other EU countries have been successful in obtaining aid under these measures, this will not apply in the UK.

In the market place prices continue to harden due to falling numbers. The UK AESA leapt 4.73p to stand at 102.85p which is its highest point since the 15 December last year.

Because more pigs will be switched back to contract outlets there will be a shortage of spot pigs, which should help to keep prices in this sector firm. Last week saw light spot baconers touching 110p per kg liveweight and this pattern is expected to be repeated next week.

Marketing groups hope that the recently announced relaxations in slaughter pig movements may help to even out the supply and demand position and lead to fewer price variations between regions

Weaner prices continue to be disrupted by F&M with a UK wide average of 37 for a 30kg weaner, but there can be as much as a 5/ head plus and minus variation between uninfected and infected areas.

Swill feeders throughout the UK are claiming that many of them face ruin because of the Governments ban on swill feeding which became effective on 24 May.

More than 70 businesses are affected according to the Associated Swill Users (ASU) group.

This ban has come at a particularly cruel time for many members of the group who have recently spent large amounts of money on updating their plant. One Midlands swill feeder had just completed an updating scheme costing over 200,000 and others are also looking at similar large write-offs of the cost of their capital equipment.

The ASU are approaching government to see if any compensation avenues remain open and say they have been made into a scapegoat for F&M, which it claims has yet to be directly linked to the practice of swill feeding.

The ASU are pressing for compensation to be assessed on either some form of Outgoers Scheme or linked to the cost per pig place on their units. It claims that in many cases it is not an option to convert premises to by-product or meal feeding as most of the accommodation has been centred around feeding low cost waste food, rather than more expensive compounds which require a controlled environment housing system to be cost effective.

Publication of the latest Eurostat statistics have once again flagged up the decline in the financial fortunes of UK farmers. Although on average EU pig prices increased by 25.4% in 2000, energy prices have increased by 26.2% and feed prices by 4.1% in the same period.

The UK agricultural industry has seen declines in terms of trade for the past five years since 1996. The pig sector is thought to have borne the brunt of this decline and this trend is evident in the latest slaughtering statistics.

The UK pig kill, which two years ago stood at over 300,000 pigs a week, is now forecast to fall below 200,000 pigs for the remainder of this year. The disruption to gilt placing caused by foot-and-mouth and the continuing effects of pig wasting diseases, PDNS and PMWS, will drive numbers down further. As a result it could take 24 months or longer for the pig breeding cycle to return to normal.

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