By Peter Crichton
Although at the time of writing (25 August) there were signs emerging from the government that some form of emergency slaughter and compensation package was on the way, mixed signals over the extent of this aid are now being received from Agriculture Minister Nick Brown.
After a four hour meeting with the NPA, NFU and MLC, Mr. Brown said that the government was “willing to pay abattoirs to slaughter and dispose of pigs” that are in the overweight range and remain locked in on many farms in East Anglia.
MAFF has now moved to try and relieve the pressure on many farms in the region by reducing the size of the surveillance zones. This allows some of the healthy pigs in the region outside the 10km radius to start moving again.
However, because of MAFF policy at the outset to use primary boundaries such as main roads and the coastline as zone boundaries, many producers have found themselves unable to move pigs even though their farms may be well outside the EU minimum 10km (6 mile) radius from infected units.
By allowing the zones to shrink to minor road boundaries more pigs will be able to hit the market before weights build up further. The original Norfolk zone which surrounds the infected breeding herd at the outbreak has, at the time of writing, remained the same size until blood testing and other inspections have been completed.
According to recent estimates around 80,000 finished pigs are currently being stacked up on farms in the affected areas of which 30% are calculated to be over 100kg liveweight.
The market for pigs over this weight remains thin with very few abattoirs prepared to buy except at discounted levels. The problem has been made worse as 50% of these pigs are boars which are only really suitable for low grade manufacturing purposes with many tending to be over fat.
Industry sources feel that if a compensation package is put together it needs to reflect the full market value of these overweight pigs and must be put into effect immediately to alleviate rising welfare problems on many overstocked farms.
Whitehall contacts are also pointing to doubts over any compensation proposals that will cover the extra costs of keeping overweight pigs until movements are fully restored.
The NPA has warned that unless many of their members can see a rapid practical and financial solution to these problems some will be tempted to “smuggle” pigs out of the zones and this will drive a coach and horses through any chances of MAFF tracing any further CSF outbreaks.
Many of the regions larger producers have called for an immediate government sponsored slaughter outlet for at least 20% of their overweight pigs to be set up. Otherwise they will find that they are in breach of their ABM stocking rates and could lose their farm assured status.
They estimate that the extra cost of keeping overweight finished pigs is £5/week with feed and other fixed costs quoted at £3.50/week. Additional emergency housing costs are put at 70p/week, and 80p/week to cover the devaluation as pigs get heavier and fatter.
Added to this are fears that when the standstill zone pigs hit the market, prices may collapse unless some form of phased emergency slaughtering programme is agreed. These pigs could either go for rendering or a long term Private Storage Aid type scheme to keep the meat off the market for the time being.
In spite of Mr. Browns pledge on 20 August that producers would get the same level of compensation as in other EU countries, it is hard to see a 100% scheme operating in the UK to match the joint 30% state/70% EU payout which operated in Holland.
Feeling within the trade is that although in the past, exceptional EU market support measures were paid out at 100%, EU commissioners are more likely to look at future requests for aid from affected nations on the basis of a self funded insurance scheme.