Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the East Anglian Pig Advisers Association (M 12)

  The East Anglian Pig Advisers Association (EAPAA) is a trade-only association of over 100 individuals representing firms large and small, such as pig Breeding Companies, Veterinarians, Feed Suppliers, Building/Equipment Manufacturers, Animal Health/Pharmaceutical Companies, Banks, Pig Marketing Services, Advisory Services, Abattoirs and Meat Packers and others serving pig farmers in East Anglia.


  It is difficult to comment since this scheme seems not yet to be in existence—other than the rather obvious question—why has the scheme not yet been introduced?


  At a recent EAPAA committee meeting concern was expressed about the consequences of Swine Fever on the viability of pig farmers in East Anglia, the jobs of their farm workers, and potentially also the sustainability of members businesses supplying those farms.

  In common with the whole industry we had all had serious reservations about the Pig Welfare Disposal Scheme as originally announced on 29 August 2000. Not only had it appeared to fall short of the Ministers legal and moral obligations and seemed certain to lead to farmer bankruptcies with serious consequences for unsecured trade creditors, but it had also failed to achieve the urgent objective of halting and reversing the build up of pigs on farms.

  The Agriculture Committee will be aware that lateral spread of swine fever was likely (and did indeed occur) and will no doubt appreciate that an increase in the number of pigs in the "catchment area" as a result of an encouragement to keep more pigs (possibly in less than ideal temporary outdoor accommodation) for longer than is usual would increase the chance of spreading the disease rather than preventing it.

  Although support was expressed for the actions of the National Pig Association and others in seeking to improve the scheme, in the context in which that was being done, there was concern that several aspects of government policy towards this outbreak had not been adequately explained and required clarification for instance:

  1.  In 1997 and 1998 the policy of this government was to support full market value compensation for the disposal of pigs locked in surveillance and protection zones.

  That is beyond dispute since the UK voted at Pigmeat Management Committee meetings in favour of the introduction and increased allocations for such measures 18 times in 1998 alone and also many times in 1997. If that was not policy at the time delegates would seem to have been in serious dereliction of duty by voting in that manner.

  That this need not have changed was confirmed by the European Court of Auditors Special Report No 1/2000 and the Commissions replies to it, and Robert Sturdy MEP who was told by a senior European Commission Official on 30 August 2000 that "the ministry can offer a compensation scheme paying up to full market value for pigs in the surveillance areas".

  Having supported such measures which were co-funded by the EC at a cost to the 1997, 1998 and 1999 budgets of about ECU 650 million (a cost the UK, net of "Fontainebleau rebate", of around £20 million) why is it now the policy of the government that full compensation is inappropriate?

  2.  In 1999 the policy of this Government was that restrictions such as these were not a normal business risk.

  That is beyond dispute because the European Commission states that Official correspondence from the UK Authorities on 23 February 1999 said "We do not accept that the sudden total inability of a producer to sell a product in his usual market at any price, owing to circumstances unrelated to the market situation, and without any change in levels of consumer demand, coupled with the almost total inability to transport this product for sale at any price in other markets, due to restrictions on animal movements, can be considered to fall within the normal parameters of entrepreneurial risk."

  Why was the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's official response (MAFF 219/00) after meeting industry representatives that "this is a normal business risk"?

  3.  Parliament provided the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with a mechanism for disposing of pigs from infected areas.

  That is the Animal Health Act 1981. Schedule 3.4(1) permits the Minister to "if he thinks fit, in any case cause to be slaughtered any swine . . . which appear to the Minister to have been in any way exposed to the infection of swine-fever. Sections 17 and 18 confirm that the Minister's declaration of an "infected area" is "conclusive evidence" of the latter point for the purpose of the regulations.

  Why did the Minister invent an alternative mechanism which was apparently not enacted under any Act of Parliament?

  Was his motive to deliberately evade the compensation provided for by Schedule 3.4(2) of the Act which states that for animals which are as yet not affected (but which may or may not have been infected) that "compensation shall be the value of the animal"?

  4.  Many farmers and agricultural businesses have suffered real financial loss as a consequence of restrictions imposed because of outbreaks which:

    —  could not have been foreseen—since the UK should have been a safe haven from the disease having been officially declared to be "Swine Fever Free" (unlike parts of Germany for instance) and has strong geographic borders to protect that status;

    —  resulted from a failure in border controls—MAFF scientists have concluded that the source of the outbreak was illegal importation of pigmeat which they now say they know does occur;

    —  could not have been protected against—since vaccination against swine fever is illegal in the UK because that is unnecessary in a Swine Fever Free Territory and use of the older ("non-marker") vaccines interferes with laboratory surveillance for swine fever;


    —  the deficiency in disposal scheme payments in terms of price and timescale when compared to market value, which are particularly severe in the case of producers of organic pigs or breeding stock, also an ongoing cost to the industry in the form of a levy to pay for part of those and no recognition of the reduced efficiency in taking pigs to higher than usual weights until they could be disposed;

    —  unrecoverable overhead costs, including labour, when farms have been left empty (or only partly full) because of restrictions (or shortage of funds due to the extended timescale of disposal scheme payments);

    —  loss of markets, not only export markets, but also farmers outside of restricted area who in some cases have been cut off from their contracted customer of weaner pigs or breeding animals, and have had to sell pigs elsewhere at a lower price;

    —  precautionary restrictions for example where carcases in abattoirs and feed on confirmed or suspect farm have been impounded until past their "best before" dates while MAFF verified that they were indeed safe; and

    —  knock-on effects for a wide range of businesses servicing pig farms.

  The Minister's official response is that compensation measures weren't designed to cover these. That conveys no information at all—a house brick certainly was not designed to be thrown through a window, however that doesn't prevent it being eminently suitable for that purpose. He has told industry representatives verbally that he has no legal liability to pay any compensation at all, but has been shy about putting that in print, or justifying why not.

  What advice has Ministry solicitors given to the Minister—have they told him unequivocally that he is not liable to pay anything if he does not wish to?

  In the absence of an adequate explanation of these points the Minister is in danger of leaving a lasting impression after this outbreak is over that he would prefer pigs to be farmed outside of the UK.

  Whether or not the Minister is of the opinion he should ultimately fund all or part of the disposal scheme monies, in view of the greater amount of financial support which this Government gave to continental pig farmers restricted because of swine fever and the present desperate state of farm incomes we believe that the very least which he can do now is to allocate sufficient funds to the Intervention Board to enable them to pay the remaining disposal scheme monies now, before Christmas 2000, and allow them to be repaid to the IB in due course by the new PIDS or whatever.

4 December 2000

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