Majority want to see end of swill feeding
THERE is part of the pig industry that has a soft spot for swill feeding. It has long been a cheap way to feed pigs that has the added environmental benefit of removing waste from caterers.
But most pig farmers have wanted it banned for a long time. And the feeling that the few who feed swill create unacceptable risks for everyone else has grown with each day of the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Farm minister Nick Browns proposal to ban swill feeding, would only affect about 140 farmers accounting for just 80,000 pigs, about 1.4% of the total.
One of these is East Anglian producer John Clarke who feeds his 20,000 pigs on treated poultry waste. He said all his processing plants, costing him thousands of pounds, will now be redundant.
People like him have been made into convenient scapegoats by a government trying to divert attention away from their lapse control of imported meat, he claims.
"Swill feeders didnt produce foot-and-mouth and didnt make the virus. When you import stuff from around the world this is what is going to happen," he said.
But for most people swill feeding, where pigs can legally be fed pork, is an anachronism in the post-BSE world where feeding meat to animals is almost universally outlawed.
Discussion within industry and the government about its future has rumbled on for years now. The foot-and-mouth crisis was the final straw.
Announcing the proposed ban in the House of Commons on Tuesday (Mar 27), Mr Brown pointed out that the Heddon-on-the-Wall pig farm identified as the source of the outbreak was licensed to feed swill. He acknowledged that if rules requiring the swill to be treated to 100C for one hour are followed, swill feeding presents no risk.
But a lapse in these rules is widely blamed for this devastating outbreak and the political solution is clear.
The plot surrounding Bobby and Ronnie Waughs Heddon pig farm thickened recently when farmers that supplied him swill were fined for breaching swill feed regulations.
Alan Clement, 57, of West Craig Lea Farm, Crook, County Durham and his son Kenneth, 28, were fined £600 by Bishop Auckland magistrates earlier this month. Both men admitted the offences, which date back to January 2000.
It has also emerged that the two men sold pigmeat to an abattoir that sells meat under the British Quality Standard Mark for pigmeat. A Meat and Livestock Commission spokesman said there was no indication that meat from their pigs carried the logo.
Assured British Pigs banned swill fed pigs from the pigmeat assurance scheme earlier this month, he added.
There was further controversy over swill feeding when it emerged that the governments advisors on BSE, SEAC, had advised it to review the practise over three years ago.
Junior farm minister Baroness Hayman said the advice was not concerned with foot-and-mouth disease.
She said it was about the risk of a BSE-like disease being spread through swill.
"There was advice to ministers from SEAC in 1997, but it did not recommend a ban on swill feeding. On that basis we banned the use of pig products from slaughterhouses in pigswill. SEAC supported the action we took," she said.
Mr Brown also promised to tighten up rules regarding the illegal import of meat which may have come from a foot-and-mouth infected country.
NPA producer group chairman Stewart Houston said it is essential that the clamour to ban swill feeding does not mask the even bigger problem of imported meat. He called for the government to resist a "knee-jerk" ban. *