Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Environment Agency (M 5)


  The Environment Agency's primary aim is to protect and improve the environment and to make a contribution towards the delivery of sustainable development through the integrated management of air, land and water. The Agency does this through regulation and enforcement but also by influencing and educating industry, landowners, farmers and others to reduce their environmental impacts.

  The Agriculture Committee has indicated that it will hold a short inquiry into the UK Pig Industry. We understand that the inquiry will concentrate on the restructuring scheme announced by the Government, as part of the action plan for farming, and on the recent outbreak of swine fever. The purpose of this submission is to provide a brief update on progress with regulatory developments and to draw the Committee's attention to environmental issues that should be taken into account within the future strategy for the industry.


  The Agency continues to work closely with industry representatives on the introduction of Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC). A set of standard conditions has been agreed with the industry, as precursors to General Binding Rules that may be agreed by Ministers. Guidance and an application form have been developed specifically for the pig and poultry sectors. The Agency has made proposals for application and subsistence charges that reflect the minimum that can be reached within existing legislation and the application of Treasury rules.


  During our discussions with the industry we have identified the following issues which we feel need to be addressed at the strategic level.

Formulation of diets

  The nitrogen and phosphorus content of slurry and manure from pig farms has a major influence over the potential for both aerial emissions of ammonia and losses of nutrients to the water environment (by leaching from land). Optimising the level of these nutrients within feeding regimes appears to offer considerable scope for reducing environmental emissions. The Agency has already had useful discussions with the industry on this issue and believes that this approach may offer a cost-effective route to reduce environmental pollution. This should be built into future strategic plans for research and development for the industry.


  Housing has a major influence on emissions to the environment from pig farms. Currently, control of these emissions can only be achieved using forced ventilation and removal of ammonia from vented air. However, forced ventilation is not used widely in the UK and there are also issues relating to the additional energy which is used in such systems. The Agency is already working with the industry on Research and Development on housing that can reduce emissions, but further investigation of housing designs is needed.

Outdoor pig units

  The Agency has for some time been concerned about the environmental impacts of outdoor pig units. Research undertaken for MAFF has confirmed that the amounts of nitrogen deposited by pigs in these units, at typical commercial stocking rates, is high and exceeds rates of nitrogen applied to grassland and crops. This nitrogen is particularly vulnerable to leaching (land on many outdoor pig units has little plant cover and dung is deposited through the winder period when rainfall is highest). The proportion of nutrients deposited on soil and subsequently available to following crops appears to be limited. In addition, the Agency has observed a number of instances of serious soil erosion arising from outdoor pig units.

  By working with farmers, the Agency has identified some practices that can significantly reduce soil erosion within outdoor pig units. The Agency is a partner in a project funded under the Agricultural Development Scheme which aims to optimise production systems whilst having regard to environmental issues (although the issues of nitrogen leaching is particularly challenging and an economic solution may be difficult to find).

  The Agency is concerned that following the recovery of the pig sector there could be a substantial and environmentally damaging increase in the numbers of pigs in outdoor units. In the Agency's view, any major increase in outdoor units would be undesirable until more environmentally acceptable techniques have been developed and proven.


  The areas involved in the outbreak were principally in the Agency's Anglian Region. In order to avoid any possibility of spreading the infection, all routine visits to farms in the Region were suspended. Staff in the Region also adopted a flexible approach over issues such as temporary storage arrangements for manure arising from the enforced retention of stock on farms.

24 November 2000

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