27 July 2001

Fresh outbreaks of F&M damage pig export plans

By James Garner

REGIONAL pig exports have been put on hold following further outbreaks of foot-and-mouth.

The Department for Environ-ment, Food and Rural Affairs had been expected to apply to the European Commission for permission to start regional cull sow exports. The Standing Veterinary Committee in Brussels would have discussed the plan this week.

But in the event, DEFRA withheld its application as fresh cases of F&M, notably near major pig-producing areas in North Yorks, broke out.

However, ministers will probably revive the export plan in time for the next SVC meeting in September. Omens look good – in an informal discussion at this weeks SVC meeting, most member states recognised that large areas of the UK remained F&M-free, though France resisted the idea.

An export breakthrough would have been an enormous relief for the pig industry. The proposal was to draw a line from East Yorks down to the south coast. Exports would have begun to the east of the line, accounting for over half the cull sows in the country.

The National Pig Association estimates that about 60,000 cull sows are now caught up on farm, and this will build to 90,000 by September. This is adding 3p/kg to production costs or £500,000/week to the industrys bill.

Ian Campbell, NPA regional manager, says: "If there hadnt been a sudden uplift in cases, we might have got this through. Importantly, we now believe that government is pushing on this issue."

Recent pig price falls have further added to pig producers woes. Spot prices have dropped to about 103-104p/kg from a high of 110p/kg a few weeks ago. Imports are now being sucked in, keeping a lid on the market and forcing some producers below the break-even price.

Increasing feed costs, additional vet costs, lower productivity due to pig wasting diseases and the burden of cull sows has forced up many producers costs to about a 100p/kg, says the NPA.

Contract prices have also fallen – by 8p/kg over the past two weeks – prompting BPEX chairman Richard Campbell to appeal for retailer support.

Meanwhile, hopes for an early resumption of livestock markets on a county-by-county basis are still alive.

Last week, junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty told the House of Lords that the government intended to put a livestock movement strategy in place to apply from Sept 1.

This included the possibility of holding some livestock markets in counties that have been F&M free for three months or more, and where testing has been completed. Livestock Auctioneers Association chairman Peter Kingwill is confident that some "competitive" markets will operate during September.

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, is also hopeful. "But if there are none, the welfare implications are high." &#42