June 2015: Back to work after the election

It’s been another busy month for the NPA as we rocket towards the summer – where on earth has the first half of 2015 gone? At least now the election furore has died down we can all get back to work! We still have much to do, however, to educate the new intake of MPs, and Lizzie is working particularly hard to determine all those in pig-dense areas.

With Liz Truss back in the driving seat at Defra, we don’t have the usual mad panic to get her out on a “walk the chain” visit, but have still written to congratulate her for retaining her position just the same.

A couple of weeks ago Georgina and I were lucky enough to be able to visit Denmark for a pig welfare conference that had been laid on by the Danish government. I won’t go into too much detail as it will be covered elsewhere, but suffice to say that I was actually pleasantly surprised by how balanced many of the speakers were.

There were plenty of hardliners in the audience, however, so I had to take to Twitter to tackle some of the more irritating twaddle being linked to the conference. The Danish agriculture minister, Dan Jørgensen is an interesting fish, although a bit too slick and polished for my liking. Typical politician, I guess. On one hand he was advocating a move to organic production (I did have to ask him at one point if we were actually at the same conference, having just heard that Danish organic piglet mortality was 33%) and planning to reduce antibiotic use still further, but in the same breath was saying that you had to be careful you didn’t export your home production by bringing in too much legislation! Epic fail in my view, as he was clearly attempting to appeal to everyone without offering practical solutions for anyone.

Of course, the whole premise of the conference was to promote the new welfare declaration that the Danes, Dutch, Germans and now Swedes have signed up to. Apart from calling on the EC to strengthen existing legislation (reduce stocking densities and phase out castration, farrowing crates, fully slatted floors and tail docking), they’ve also asked that the use of stalls for four weeks after weaning should be banned.

No mention of the crippling financial strain most EU pig producers are currently under, of course. If I was a Danish pig producer, I tell you I’d be more than a little miffed to see what I’d been signed up to deliver. Thankfully the UK is already in a good position for much of what they’re calling for, but there’ll always be challenges, so we’ll keep watching.

Having been slightly annoyed by the Danish chap at the BPEX Innovation conference deriding the UK for lagging behind the rest of the EU in reducing our antibiotic use, I’ve decided to piggyback on a useful trip that Andrew Knowles has organised for farmers and vets as part of the Pig Health and Welfare Council antibiotic use sub-group. The plan is to pop over to The Netherlands for the day and learn everything that we can about how they’re managing to reduce use without impacting on performance. I’m sure I’ll have some interesting titbits to share in my next column.

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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