Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has today written to John Godfrey of the National Pig Association to bring him up to date with arrangements for a welfare disposal scheme and potential financial support for farmers affected by the recent outbreak of Classical Swine Fever in East Anglia.

A copy of Mr Brown's letter follows.

John Godfrey Esq
Chairman
National Pig Association
PO Box 29072
London
WC2H 8QS

30 August 2000

OUTBREAK OF CLASSICAL SWINE FEVER IN EAST ANGLIA

Following last Wednesday's meeting I am writing to bring you up to speed on where matters now stand on the welfare disposal scheme and on financial support.

Let me begin by re-emphasising that the state of the pig industry has been one of my major concerns since I became Minister. That is why, for example, the Strategy for Agriculture announced last March contained a £66 million restructuring scheme; why we earmarked £3 million of marketing support funds for the pig sector and supported the industry's own welfare promotion campaign; why we have encouraged understanding of the particular benefits of UK pigmeat for customers; why we have radically reduced the impact of IPPC; and why we are looking at the whole burden of regulation on the slaughtering industry.

Protecting the health status of the pig industry has always had a top priority. Even in the absence of serious disease outbreaks, this requires a lot of MAFF resource. Without this work it would be very difficult for the industry to operate in the way that it does. My veterinary staff responded to the present swine fever outbreak with exceptional speed and effectiveness, which has been mirrored by excellent co-operation from producers. It is because we were able to demonstrate to our European partners that our controls were being rigorously applied that we were able to win some scaling-back of restrictions last week. A further reduction - in the size of the first surveillance zone - takes effect from 5.00pm today, freeing up nearly 200 more farms from movement restrictions (the relevant producers will be contacted). These are tangible benefits from the approach we have taken: it is absolutely vital, both to keep the outbreak under control and to maintain the confidence of trading partners, that there should be no let up.

From the start, we have jointly recognised the animal welfare implications of the present situation. Nothing can take away from farmers their legal responsibility for the welfare of this stock, and we have produced advice to help them to fulfil it. But I accept we need to go further in the present wholly exceptional situation. Within a week of the industry's coming to us to press their case for Government action, we have introduced a scheme, which opened yesterday (29 August), for the disposal of surplus animals from areas subject to restriction.

As I also promised you and other representatives of the industry last week, I have discussed with the European Commission and the Treasury whether it might be justified to go further and offer some payment for the animals removed. In the present circumstances, it would be hard to justify compensation for business losses; this has never been the purpose of making payments in disease outbreaks. But I can see that after such a long period of financial difficulty it will be particularly difficult for producers to meet the costs of maintaining animal welfare in the face of disease.

Accordingly, I am seeking Commission clearance for a state aid to introduce payments linked strictly to dealing with welfare problems. Payments would be retrospective, but once clearance was forthcoming I would ask the Intervention Board to expedite them as far as possible to assist the East Anglian industry with its cash flow. I also want to end the uncertainty about the level of payments. I hope to be able to announce the details within the next few days - by which I mean before the weekend, if this can be achieved. Here, as in everything that we have done to deal with this outbreak, I recognise the need to move quickly.

I am copying to Ben Gill, Don Curry, Peter Scott, David Walker, and to Stewart Houston.

With best wishes

NICK BROWN