Is it a level playing field at last?

UK - The pig keeping landscape is changing in Europe and if one ignores pre-existing conditions, such as the stalls ban, for once British pig producers find themselves on a level political playing field, possibly even with a slight breeze behind them.
calendar icon 7 April 2003
clock icon 5 minute read
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NPA is active on members' behalf in Brussels & White-hall, and with pro-cessors, supermarkets & caterers – fighting for the growth and pros-perity of the UK pig industry.

Gold-plating of EU regulations is now rife across the continent, with the Danes, the Dutch, and to some extent the Irish, having to comply with stricter environmental rules than UK producers.

And in Germany and Holland the welfare agenda has also taken on new importance; Holland is introducing the stalls ban early, and German producers fear their government is plotting new space requirements, which will exceed the EU minimum.

This can be contrasted with the current position in Britain where food and farming minister Lord Whitty has pledged that Defra will not gold-plate EU regulations. Further, he has expressed a willingness for him and his department officials to meet producers regularly to discuss how EU regulations can be made "more friendly".

In recent months the industry has worked with Defra for a flexible interpretation of the manipulable materials rule and of the permanent-water-for-piglets rule.

Even the current chaos over incinerators is less to do with Defra officials dragging their feet, and more to do with EC procrastination over the ground rules, making it difficult to provide producers with timely, practical advice.

So is the new détente a fleeting phenomenon that we should enjoy whilst we can… or does it go further? "I don't think it is a temporary manifestation… but I do think it is one that requires permanent maintenance at a political level," offered BPEX chief executive Mick Sloyan.

With this elegant proposition he is suggesting that NPA and the processor bodies should recognise the reality of Nobel House perestroika - but not take it for granted.

The suggestion that politicians are being kinder to pig producers because of a lingering guilt over the damaging unilateral stalls legislation, provokes a hollow laugh from Mr Sloyan, but he acknowledges that a lesson may have been learned in Whitehall, as a result of effective lobbying by the pig industry.

Domestic legislation is driven not by politicians, but by society. A decade ago there was concern about the welfare of British pigs. Today, the industry is seen to be more in tune with society's expectations of it. This is what Curry requires, and what pig producers have been attempting to deliver.

But Continental producers have found themselves at odds with society and this is best summed up in the remark, possibly apocryphal: "When you can stand in the middle of Amsterdam and you can smell pig shit, you know you've got a problem."

In Germany, society expressed a desire for greener farming; in the Netherlands and Denmark, the populace wanted greater environmental controls on intensive farming.

In Britain the social contract between farming and the population at large appears to be reasonably in equilibrium and it is the job of farmers everywhere to maintain this state for as long as possible by showing the industry in a positive light, and by embracing unavoidable change with good grace.

Of course, achieving equilibrium is easier when the national pig herd has fallen by over a third in the past few years, than it would be if the herd had increased to a million sows.

But wind of change notwithstanding, government's aims and the industry's aims will rarely coincide. Producers need look no further than the welfare disposal scheme available to Spanish producers during the recent classical swine fever outbreak and compare it with the UK government's current attitude towards notifiable disease compensation: NO welfare scheme and possibly NO compensation for compulsory slaughter either. Clearly there are bloody battles still to be fought.

Most new costs being loaded on producers come from Europe. Even the most pro-European observer would have to accept that the EC legislative machine has no effective checks and is out of control, but with one caveat, namely that enlightened legislation (if there is any) is rarely recognised as such, except in retrospect.

James Black, who is NPA's leader on environmental issues, points out that there is widespread concern about the environment in UK and Europe as a whole and that agriculture is seen as a major polluter. It is NPA's job, he says, to correct misconceptions and fight vigorously for the best achievable outcome for producers.

Implicit in his remark is the warning that for as long as European society as a whole has concerns, new environmental legislation is not going to go away and producers will have to adapt.

But as East Anglia producer Mark Hayward once observed, it is easier to come to terms with the imposition of extra costs if you're making a profit in the first place.

Source: National Pig Association, By Digby Scott - 7th April 2003

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