July 2013 – Holed-up at Defra

Well … the past two days have certainly been full on. I’ve spent most of them holed-up in Exercise Control at Defra HQ with Ian Campbell and various Defra/AHVLA staff throwing all sorts of difficult situations at staff who were ‘playing’ in the National CSF exercise.

They had everything to deal with from animal rights activists turning up at the rendering plant, to staffing issues; and, of course, me and Campbell playing increasingly irate farmers.

Day one was absolute chaos as you would probably expect. Information wasn’t getting through to the regions, Scotland and Wales had differing opinions to England, the mock NPA news website was stirring the pot with the media and many people just really didn’t know the basics of the pig industry or how to advise people on what they could or couldn’t do.

However, the big difference this time was that the industry was actually involved in making key decisions, particularly on movement restrictions and their impacts, and it was good to see Defra trying to be proportionate in their actions.

Stewart Houston, Marcus Bates (BPA) and Fiona Steiger (BMPA) were at HQ, and Lizzie Press was out in one of the regions. Thankfully, by the end of day one order was on the way to being restored and communication improved dramatically.

Day two was equally busy, but people had much better control over what needed to be done, even if some of the advice we were getting was still a little odd! There’s going to be plenty to do after the event, both by the industry and Defra, to ensure that lessons learned actually get acted upon so we can at least be better prepared for the next exotic disease outbreak. Everyone has a part to play in this, however, so on-farm contingency planning, while often difficult, remains important.

I’m not sure how many people have even thought about it, let alone have a plan, but if you’re unfortunate enough to be trapped in a protection zone, moving anything on or off other than feed would be nigh on impossible for a minimum of 30 days. A chilling thought…

The annual NPA BBQ was a great event and offered the opportunity to present this year’s Chris Brant award to a very worthy winner, Jonathan French. Whenever I go to farms in the South-west I’m always shown bits of kit or practical solutions that have been inspired by Jonny. It’s clear that the producers value his advice and support, so really great to see that being recognised.

Finally, some of you may have seen the new ‘Pig Idea’ campaign that’s trying to get the swill ban lifted
to get pigs eating food waste so that it doesn’t need to go into landfill sites.

While we support assured and traceable food manufacturing waste being utilised, the thought of the risks involved encouraging everyone to feed food waste to their pigs, even if it does have to be treated, fills me with chills. Especially after the past two days I’ve had!

> Dr Zoe Davies is general manager of the NPA. For more information visit: www.npa-uk.org.uk 

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