By Peter Crichton

IT is now eight weeks since foot-and-mouth hit the UK pig industry, and most producers and allied traders are still in limbo concerning their future.

Professor David King, the Governments chief scientific officer, suggested that progress towards defeating the virus could be shown by the fall in the number of new cases being declared.

But there is still widespread concern that it is early days for anyone to forecast if the worst is over.

Confusion also reigns over the actual number of animals that have foot-and-mouth or are awaiting slaughter.

As a result MAFF has said that these figures will no longer be released because they are “unreliable”.

Pig producers in infected areas are in many cases still waiting to see if their overstocked pigs will be slaughtered by the Intervention Board under the welfare slaughter scheme.

The scheme is reported to have a waiting list of two million cattle, sheep and pigs.

There are reports of limited numbers of pigs being taken up by the IB, but at nowhere near the 65,000 head per week claimed at the launch two weeks ago.

Cull sows and boars in both infected and clean areas remain almost impossible to shift due to the collapse in the export market.

Producers are being advised to shoot cull boars and plain sows, which have almost no market value other than under the welfare scheme.

The National Pig Association is also piling on the pressure in its battle to obtain “top up” payments amounting to about 4 million, which producers are still waiting to receive for pigs sold last autumn under the CSF welfare slaughter scheme.

In spite of promises from Nick Brown and Baroness Hayman that these payments would be made in March none have yet been received.

Producers are being advised not to expect anything earlier than the end of April.

By-product feeders also await their fate, following publication of the latest MAFF consultation document which looked for industry responses by 10 April.

Fears remain over the scope of these proposals and whether they will also include the feeding of catering waste not containing (or in contact with) animal products other than milk, eggs, rennet, gelatine or melted fat as an ingredient.

Although the MAFF objective is for a permanent ban on feeding swill – which will hit the remaining 82 licensed swill feeders left in the country – the far wider uses of poultry abattoir, fish processing, bakery, dairy and other by-products may also be affected.

Compliance with the swill ban alone is estimated to cost the UK pig industry 12m per annum.

A wider ranging ban on the use of other liquid and moist feed by-products is estimated by feed trade sources to amount to 2.7m liquid tonnes of material to be disposed of with a value exceeding 60m per annum.

Producers are also waiting to see what announcements are likely to be made concerning any relaxation of stock movements in non-infected areas.

This could then lead to the partial resumption of exports on a regional basis, only in the long term.

At the same time there are reports that the EU SVC had approved the use of the GB stamp on all eligible meat and that it was intended to implement this for animals slaughtered after 23 April.

Use of the GB mark will indicate that export standard meat produced in GB cannot be exported and this will replace the oval EU mark.

Recent news on the tightly controlled movement of pigs within foot-and-mouth surveillance zones to abattoirs in the same zones has been met with relief but all movements will be vet inspected and subject to strict licensing controls.

This will however help to ease the cash flow and overcrowding problems being encountered by pig producers in many infected areas of the country.

UK pig prices have started to reflect the tightening of the numbers of slaughter pigs in the system.

A combination of foot-and-mouth controls, PDNS/PMWS and a smaller, less productive UK herd have all contrived to push the weekly kill to a mere 195,000 head which was the March average, compared with 250,000 for the same month last year.

As a result, in spite of two “short” weeks over the holiday period, spot and contract quotes moved up by 2p-5p/kg.

The UK AESA was recorded at 94.68p (+1.72p) and spot baconers were traded between 96p-102p/kg.

Weaner prices have also started to rise with quotes in the 20-24/head plus 50p/kg ex-farm and 7kg weaners between 20.50-24 according to region and quality.

  • Peter Crichton is a Suffolk-based pig farmer offering independent valuation and consultancy services to the UK pig industry
Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks
Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage