By Peter Crichton

THE National Pig Association has taken its battle to try and persuade the government to address labelling and other issues to the heart of Westminster.

This fight for survival has taken the form of a continuous 24-hour vigil now entering its third week, complete with sow, in Parliament Square under Winston Churchills statue.

Never has so much been owed by so many…

NPA chairman, John Godfrey has stated that this demonstration will continue “for as long as it takes for the government to come off the fence and to turn words into action to try and save the nations beleaguered pig industry.”

Although Prime Minister Tony Blair promised at the recent NFU AGM that he did not rule out government funding for the UK pig industry, the NPA claim that this has yet to be turned into action.

However, the first real signs of a major drop in the size of the UK herd after two years of negative returns are starting to emerge.

The January 2000 slaughter numbers averaged 264,000 per week compared with 312,000 per week 12 months earlier, a drop of almost 15%.

At the same time, weaner values have started to rise sharply on the back of a serious supply shortage.

The Farmers Weekly 30kg average is now 24.52 per head compared with 18.62 at the start of the year.

Weaner numbers have also been hit by the rising scourge of PDNS and PMWS, which can cause mortality of up to 20% in nursery and grower units.

Although there seems to be no clear indication of the pattern of spread of this disease, many breeders feel that in pig-dense areas of the country, it is only a matter of time before their herds are infected too.

According to specialist pig vets there is no simple cure available until more is known about the cause and effect of this killer virus.

Some feel that the national herd will have to build up its own levels of immunity as with Blue Ear Disease before breeders can learn to live with the problem.

Spot pig prices also continued their rally following last weeks jump of between 5-7p, initiated by some of the major meat plants.

Despite this, the AESA could only manage a 0.47p rise this week to hit the 75.62p/kg level, although marketeers expect next weeks quote to show gains of up to 2p/kg.

Cull sow values are also continuing to improve, and these have now reached the 55p-58p range.

This values the average sow at about 78, and also reflects better demand for pigmeat in Europe.

Dutch AEX futures are confirming a higher level of prices in Holland, and these are now quoted at figures equivalent to over 80p/kg deadweight four to five months ahead.

Despite the weakness of the Euro, these higher EU prices will reduce the negative pull of imports on the home market and are signalling a period of better returns for the dwindling number of UK producers.