Time for producers to join forces to stand up to the activists

Speaking from a purely selfish point of view, I’m glad that Mrs May has called a General Election – the shutters have all gone up around Government and the umpty-billion (slight exaggeration) stakeholder meetings that were planned for May, when I am effectively on my own, policy-wise, in the office, have been postponed.

After every election, there is a Cabinet reshuffle, where probably every department will have new Ministers, so the lobbying effort starts again and we get a whole bunch of new officials to wow and impress.

On the negative side, the very mention of the word ‘purdah’, which is the period civil servants enter ahead of an election where they can’t announce any new plans or initiatives, is often used as a very useful excuse not to talk to people.

A good case in point is the new certificates that we need to sign to allow pigs to be exported to China.

On the one hand, these have clarified some points, but on the other, for some reason, they have thrown in a whole heap of stuff about bovine TB. Not only does this appear to be unwarranted, as it is already dealt with in the updated guidance, but it will also mean that anyone with a restriction on their herd, regardless of whether it is justified or not, will not be able to sign the certificate and therefore probably won’t be able to send pigs to an export-certified abattoir

Now, while Mr Cheale may well be rubbing his hands (or not!) at that thought, it could cause a whole heap of trouble for anyone who has had a suspect lesion at slaughter and a precautionary restriction placed upon them while they await confirmation of whether it is bovine or avian. It could take two months or more to get that information back, so where are people supposed to send their pigs in the meantime? With evermore risk-averse behaviour from local APHA vets, who, in one pig vet’s opinion, appear petrified about making any decision at all, this has the potential to affect many more pig producers.

Clearly, our trade to China is precious so we don’t want to affect that, but we need to challenge this bonkers policy on TB. I’ve written to the Chief Vet in Defra as I got nowhere with the TB policy team.

We’ve also had a couple of producers’ planning applications affected by the anti-farming groups. One poor chap in the South West eventually got his application through the planning stage, despite particularly vociferous campaigning from the local vegan society and even some of his own family, and was then faced with derogatory slogans sprayed in the road near the proposed site.

The other was besieged by pitchfork-wielding locals at an open planning meeting, at which Viva and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) handed out ‘helpful’ leaflets.

The planners seem sensible though, so hopefully all will turn out all right. I’m also presenting to the poultry industry about our recent experience with animal rights activists to try and share some advice – time we joined forces on this one I think!

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About The Author

Dr Zoë Davies is chief executive of the NPA. For more information visit: www.npa-uk.org.uk