Autumn is underway, so politicians are back and already generating plenty of work for us. The recent news that new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has installed a staunch vegan and renowned animal rights activist as shadow Defra secretary has sent the press into a frenzy, but they’re not the ones that’ll have to attempt to build bridges with her! Looking at her previous comments relating to the pig industry, it’s clear that we’re not starting from the easiest of bases; but still, that’s no excuse not to try.
The Cabinet Office has been conducting yet another Government red tape review, this time mainly relating to farm auditing and licences, so I used the opportunity when engaging on a telephone interview to share every possible licence issue I could think of, from bovine TB restrictions, to weaner breeder licences, to ill-educated officials, planning application timelines and IPPC controls. As with many of these things, you never know if your 10-pence worth will count towards anything, but at least we’ve been included in the process.
One area where we’ve definitely made a good impact is the NPA imports protocol. The UK breeding companies and their vets asked for, and developed, the protocol several years ago, and since release it’s been updated to reflect the current disease situation and pressures – particularly relating to MRSA and PEDv.
Not only can we be assured that all UK breeding companies are adhering to it, thereby helping to protect UK herd health, but it’s been made part of the Red Tractor standards so that any company importing stock from elsewhere will have to comply. This will certainly need beefing up, though, to make sure people are using the protocol, not just owning it – but if JSR, PIC, Rattlerow and Hermitage Seaborough are all doing it, so should everyone else.
Having had a chat with colleagues at the Ulster Farmers Union, after we discovered that a large number of breeding pigs were coming over from Denmark (and following the recent MRSA case), we shared the protocol with them. I understand it will now form part of the new all-Ireland animal health strategy that’s under development.
Talking about MRSA, I was invited by Stewart Houston onto a pig unit in Essex last week with Dr Felicity Harvey, who’s director general at the Department of Health (DoH). She’s very interested in antibiotic resistance, their use in the pigs and pig farming in general.
While there was the obvious challenge over prophylactic use, it did give me a great opportunity to inform her about all the positive work going on in the pig industry to monitor, understand and demonstrate responsible antibiotic use. The DoH team came refreshingly baggage-free, having no real preconceived ideas about what the average pig farm looks like, and asked genuinely useful questions.
We’re fully aware that we’ve a responsibility to ensure antibiotics are used only as and when needed, and it was good to be able to share that with people who’ll have influence on future antibiotic use.