June 2016: Thank you, Factories not farms!

Another Pig Fair has come and gone already. I have to say that sadly I missed most of it this year. Even though I was on the NPA stand, many of you passing may have seen me holed up in the corner, hidden behind a laptop looking glum. Really sorry that I didn’t get to chat with many of you – that’s my favourite bit about the Pig Fair!

My forays away from the stand were quite brief, but the two sessions on future challenges for the pig industry that I chaired were very well attended, and the general buzz was positive. Amazing what a few weeks of price increases will do for morale, and it’s really heartening to see.

The reason for my unusual demeanour was that my team and I were dealing with three separate thorny issues that week – yet another animal rights exposé involving three farms (we’ve since had another), preparation for a Panorama programme focusing on antibiotic resistance in humans and the impact that use in livestock has, and a new campaign by Farms Not Factories urging consumers to “turn their noses up” at factory farming, with a good hook in there about antibiotic overuse. We’re still waiting for the exposés to break, but thankfully no welfare issues have been found – just vegan anti-farming propaganda and the fallout resulting from it.

Panorama was a tough call, but having seen the programme I now know it was definitely the right decision putting Richard Lister forward for interview, and worth the intense four-week deliberation, media training, arguing with producers and the challenge that went into it. Richard did us proud, and came across really positively.

Sadly, the dairy industry fared much worse. As for the Farms Not Factories campaign, even with the antibiotics link it still fell flat on its face, suffering from a very poor pick-up rate by the media. I guess people don’t really want to be told to buy organic by a load of faded celebs, and in actual fact most people seem to have come away with a “buy British” message that will only help our cause – perhaps we should be thanking them!

Following on from the successful release of the NPA’s Pig Industry Antibiotic Stewardship Programme (all members should now have received more information about this), we were able to have a positive meeting with the head of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and Defra’s Chief Vet. I’d called for the meeting because I was fed up of hearing negative vibes coming from various different sources that the pig industry was hiding its collective head in the sand over antibiotic use and doing nothing.

We launched the stewardship programme so we could showcase everything going on in the industry and, ably assisted by pig vets, RUMA and AHDB Pork, I think we’ve managed to do it. Hopefully now they’ll look for areas they can assist us with, rather than simply wanting to legislate against us.

There’s plenty of work to do now, and we’ve really been impressed by how receptive producers and vets have been, not only to the AHDB Pork electronic medicines book, but also to the fact we’ve got to minimise antibiotic use.

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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