Foot-and-mouth could devastate pig business

By Peter Crichton

FOR the first time since 1981, the British pig industry suffered what may prove to be a devastating hammer blow when foot-and-mouth disease was diagnosed on Tuesday (20 February).

The abattoir in question, Cheale Meats in Little Warley, Essex, is the largest UK sow slaughtering outlet, supplied with culls from throughout the UK.

Foot-and-mouth was diagnosed when 27 pigs in the abattoir lairage were displaying symptoms of the disease.

Jim Scudamore, the Governments chief vet, has confirmed this as virus Type O.

This is one of the most virulent pan-Asiatic strains that develops within 48 hours of infection.

MAFF reacted with a wide-ranging programme of testing on farms that have recently sent stock to Cheale Meats.

In the meantime, MAFF officials believe they have connected the source of the outbreak to a pig farm in Northumberland.

The farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall has consigned pigs to Cheale Meats and a five-mile exclusion zone has been set up around this pig unit.

A further case has been confirmed in the north-east, bringing the number of farms infected with foot-and-mouth to six, with other outbreaks on cattle and pig units linked to the Cheale Meats operation.

Live and dead exports of cattle, sheep and pigs have been banned with immediate effect and MAFF has imposed a seven-day ban on the movement of all livestock until it has had further time to track all potentially infected animals.

Any pig units with transport or other links to infected premises will be served with a Form D which puts a ban on all livestock movements for a maximum of three weeks.

However, MAFF has indicated that if testing proves negative before the three week period ends these restrictions could be lifted in advance.

In the market place there are very serious implications arising for the UK pig industry.

Although this weeks GB AESA improved slightly to stand at 96.05p the cull sow market has, in the words of a major exporter, “been decimated”.

Cheale Meats is the largest cull sow abattoir in the country, and it is unlikely that they will be allowed to reopen in the foreseeable future.

Even if exports are restarted the two remaining sow exporters, Dawkings and Pilgrims (the subsidiary of Cheales), will be hard pushed to keep up with the normal weekly kill of about 6000-8000 sows.

Until export markets are reopened it is almost impossible to receive a cull sow quotation and a large backlog is already building up in the system.

Probably the only positive feature to emerge from this disaster is that, because of the large number of movement restrictions imposed on pig farms throughout the country, spot and contract traders have been short of pigs and prices have risen by 4-6p/kg on the week with baconers quoted up to 105p/kg.

The effect on the weaner market has yet to be judged with the FARMERS WEEKLY 30kg average currently standing at 38.51.

The shortage of UK pigmeat on the shelves will inevitably lead to rising imports with last weeks figure of almost 3000 tonnes, imported from Holland, likely to soar.

After the relatively buoyant feeling of the pig industry, following almost three years of negative equity and Swine Fever, the foot-and-mouth outbreak has for many come as the last straw.

MAFF is reporting a surge of late interest in the Pig Outgoers Scheme, for which applications close on 02 March, and some producers may be influenced into applying because of recent events.

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

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