After meeting representatives of the range of people affected by the current outbreak of swine fever, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Nick Brown said

“Our first priority is to deal with the disease. If we succeed, then we can start to dismantle the controls that we have put in place and minimise trade disruption. That way, everybody will benefit. If farmers, processors and retailers can demonstrate that viable business opportunities depend on relaxing some of the restrictions in place, we will look at them. But I am not going to pursue piecemeal adjustments for short-term gains if doing so would jeopardise my main objective.

“Extra staff have been moved quickly to deal with the problem and they are working flat out to operate control measures and deal with suspect outbreaks. Where pigs are slaughtered compulsorily, their owners are compensated. Our approach has been fully in line with established practices for handling serious disease outbreaks in farm animals in many countries.

“Compensation never has been meant to cover all the costs that result from the effect of a disease outbreak. It reflects the value of the stock that is compulsorily slaughtered. I know that many farmers face real financial problems because they are unable to move pigs off their holdings but that is a business risk for which compensation arrangements were not designed.

“I realise too that the nature of modern pig production – highly concentrated, integrated and intensive – means that if farmers cannot maintain a steady turnover of animals, welfare problems can develop quickly because of overcrowding. Farmers who face these problems will need to seek advice from their own vets and advisers about how best to respond in their individual circumstances so as to safeguard the welfare of their stock and to meet their legal obligations; new Regulations and a Code of Practice have recently been issued which set these out. We are ready to offer advice to the veterinary profession, and to ensure that farmers who as a last resort have to cull animals do so without risking the spread of disease. We will continue to monitor very closely the animal welfare situation in the days to come.

“The Government’s record shows that it wants a successful pig industry. Under the Action Plan for Farming, we aim to make real inroads into the effects of regulation on farmers, and have announced a £66 million restructuring scheme. The sector benefited substantially from the 1999 Agriculture Development Scheme, £3 million of marketing and promotional money was earmarked for pigs, and we part funded the industry led welfare promotion scheme.

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“We have maintained this commitment in the current outbreak. Co-operation between my Ministry and those directly affected by this outbreak has so far been very good. We are agreed that the focus should be on getting the disease under control. This requires that we should continue to work together.”

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