By Peter Crichton

AFTER the ill-timed MAFF prediction last Tuesday (6 March) that foot-and-mouth outbreaks “may have peaked”, the number of infectious premises have more than doubled, with 164 recorded by Monday (12 March) morning and more anticipated.

Sheep movements still seem to be the main link, with many of the outbreaks traced back to livestock markets in Cumbria and the Midlands.

Further bad news for producers in the pig-dense Eastern region came with the announcement of a confirmed outbreak near Colchester in Essex.

With south-western winds, this opens up the risk of spread into east Suffolk and Norfolk, areas which were also in the thick of the swine-fever outbreaks last autumn.

Some relief to help ease the build-up in stock numbers is expected, with reports of the proposed issue of short-haul movement licences for store pigs.

These are likely to take the form of half-a-kilometre occupational licences, which will at least allow stock to move around existing units and derogations for 5km (3-mile) intra-farm and 10km road movements.

In what remains of the marketplace, prices have started to slide as numbers of live pigs build up and abattoir throughputs slide due to all the restrictions faced by working under current MAFF and MHS rules.

Two weeks ago, deadweight quotes were forecast to soar to around 1.30/kg due to the shortage of meat in the system following the announcement of restrictions on all animal movements.

This lead to a flood of expensive imports at prices up to 1.80/kg, which are now clogging up retail sales and need to be cleared to re-start the flow of UK meat.

As a result, abattoirs have been reluctant to quote except at lower level for live pigs, and baconers have already slipped to 90p/kg with supply forecast to be 30% above demand.

This has lead to calls from pig producers for the National Pig Association to press for the introduction of government funded support buying of all meat to put a bottom in a collapsing market and take the surplus product off the market.

This could take the form of an intervention scheme or private storage aid.

Alternatively there are signs that the whole foot-and-mouth issue could trigger what is known in the EU as “exceptional market support”.

Although the rules for this are complex, producers are asking MAFF to see if the situation in the UK qualifies for aid.

According to the data supplied by Gavin Ross during the swine-fever outbreak to introduce these measures, the UK would have to demonstrate “severe market distortion”.

MAFF quoted the CSF situation in the Netherlands, which lead to support measures being applied.

In Holland there were a total of 500 CSF outbreaks compared with 16 in the UK.

If the level of foot-and-mouth outbreaks continues to rise in the UK, producers are hoping that Ministers will be persuaded to make an approach to the EU for aid.

Just to rub salt in the wound, while UK prices are falling other EU countries are reaping the benefit.

Quotes on the Dutch AEX futures market at the end of last week were all in the 108-110p/kg range for heavy pigs and are forecast to remain strong unless foot-and-mouth is detected in Europe.

  • Peter Crichton is a Suffolk-based pig farmer offering independent valuation and consultancy services to the UK pig industry