January 2015: Delicate talks saved the day

Happy New Year to you all! Of course I am writing this at the beginning of December so pre-empting the fact that you’ve all had a jolly good Christmas too. Although it looks as though prices are still heading in the wrong direction, believe me, it could have been a lot worse.

It often amazes me just how much goes on behind the scenes and how often very delicate negotiations to preserve your pig price have to take place. The latest situation gave us a major wobble. I can’t say too much because we aren’t completely out of the woods yet, but let’s just say all of us – NPA, BPEX and Defra – helped you out on this one and prevented a major export market from being shut down indefinitely because an official read a Daily Mail article and appears to have over-reacted. Thankfully, it was only shut down for a week in the end, so no additional drops to the pig price were seen, but by God was it a stressful few days!

Thankfully too there have been no more cases of highly pathogenic avian influenza. Although it wasn’t a disease that affected pigs, if you had a few chickens knocking about on the pig farm, it was enough to trigger a movement standstill. The affected duck farm was in a particularly pig dense area, so we’d quite a few units affected.

Now, while we hoped that as only one farm was affected it would have little impact and movements would be able to begin again within a couple of days, the reality was completely different. It really shocked me how depleted the resources have become in the regional APHA offices, to the extent that we’re in no shape to deal with the next major notifiable disease outbreak.

Defra and APHA staff were working long into the night and over the weekend to try and sort the issue, but my point was that if they had had better systems in place beforehand, there would have been no need for them to do that. In short, there was total chaos, but there’s also much as an industry that we can do to help to prevent this next time. Local vet groups have already mucked in by providing training to APHA officers, and I seriously think we need to consider offering the regional offices some assistance – even if it’s just someone to answer the phones, give sensible advice and manage pig keepers’ expectations!

The Pig Health and Welfare Council antibiotics sub-group on which I sit had a useful meeting recently. As the pig sector is the largest user of antibiotics in the UK, we’ve been targeted by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) – with pressure from the EU – to identify what we’re using and why. The challenge is to collect the data needed without causing a huge headache for pig producers.

The solution could be something akin to the eAML2 system, where multiple channels will be used to input data on medicine use (from a smartphone app and internet web page, to a bureau service for those with no internet access).

I’ll be on the Worshipful Company of Farmers Challenge of Rural Leadership course for two weeks in January. Apparently you don’t get time to think it’s so full on, so hopefully will be a nice break!

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

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