UK awaits fallout from EU swine fever

Friday, 23 January, 1998

By Peter Crichton

PIG producers are bracing themselves for the effects of swine fever outbreaks in three European countries to hit the UK market.

But any impact from the disease – recently found in Germany, Holland and Spain – is likely to be felt in weeks, rather than days.

UK deadweight prices continued to slip this week. The All-Average Pig Price stands at 88.22p/kg deadweight and spot baconers are now trading at 75-82p/kg. Lighter pigs are fetching 83-90p/kg.

Demand at auction has also been very weak, with fewer buyers looking for extra pigs. Most animals are trading at 60-65p/kg.

The swine fever outbreak on the Continent initially prompted hopes that a widespread eruption of the disease might reduce the number of slaughter pigs on an already over-supplied UK market.

Abattoir operators continue to cite cheap European pigmeat imports as the main barrier to any improvement in domestic prices.

But slaughterers say any reduction in pigmeat on the market will be due to fewer domestic pig killings. They claim that higher mortality and lower conception rates on some outdoor units could reduce abattoir throughput during the coming weeks.

This, combined with the strong Pound, is unlikely to keep European pigmeat imports at bay.

The swine fever outbreaks have also led to mounting concern over pig movements throughout the EU.

The UK has been free of swine fever since the 1950s. And those pig farmers who can remember the devastating effect on their herds will be hoping that “hog cholera”, as it is known in the USA, stays the other side of the English Channel.

Livestock vehicles returning from the Continent pose a great risk, as do imported pigmeat supplies from infected areas. Hauliers engaged in exporting pigs should follow strict disinfectant procedures. Any pig units they collect from should be informed that the lorries have returned from abroad before the farms are visited.

Many pig farmers have stepped up a ban on their farm staff from bringing any pigmeat-based snacks to work – in case the scraps are fed to their pigs and the disease is spread in this way.

UK producers can limit their financial risk by taking out insurance to cover the shortfall between any Government-based compensation received and the actual loss suffered if the disease does break out here. Many London-based brokers will cover for business interruption and the loss of future income while herds are being re-stocked.

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

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