An update on the new Primo movement rules

UK - Soon-to-be-introduced changes in how pigs are slapped for moving are causing uncertainty - in particular the need to slap pigs with a "herdmark".
calendar icon 13 August 2003
clock icon 6 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.

Defra's aim is to ensure that in future all pigs being moved can quickly be traced back to the holding they are being moved from.

So from November producers will no longer be able to slap pigs with the mark of their choice -- they must use their official herdmark, which shouldn't be confused with their CPH (or holding) number.

A herdmark is specific to an individual pig herd, rather than to a herd owner. Every herd has, or should have, a herdmark. It will have been allocated when the herd was originally registered with Defra or Maff. The number is alphanumeric, with a combination of, usually, six letters/digits.

There are a number of other important issues concerning the revised Primo rules, some of which are still under discussion and so may be modified before legislation is enacted.


All pigs going to slaughter must be slapped on each shoulder with the herdmark. This requirement is being taken up by NPA because it is worrying some producers: it isn't going to be easy to double-slap pigs going down a race and it may prove equally difficult when working in larger pens, where the pigs will do their level best to avoid the indignity of slap number two.

Herd registration

From November it will be the keeper of pigs who is responsible for registering a pig holding, rather than the owner. This should remove some of the confusion that has arisen in the past, particularly with outdoor herds.


Defra need to implement an EU requirement for holding-of-birth identification: in other words ear tagging. It is not necessary for slapped slaughter pigs to be tagged, but ministry vets would like to see the tagging of all pigs being moved off holding other than for slaughter.

Tagging is common practice in most - not all - continental countries but the British pig industry is structured differently, with its outdoor herds and its regimented pyramid moves.

NPA has argued that pigs moving in properly defined pyramids don't need to be tagged because they can instantly and easily be traced back to their holdings of birth.

Therefore Defra's requirement that all non-slaughter movement pigs be tagged has been put on hold to see if a compromise can be reached that will satisfy NPA, the Defra vets, health and welfare minister Ben Bradshaw, and the EU.

For the time being, pigs under 12 months in non-slaughter movements must have a temporary mark (a spray mark) that will last at least until they reach their destination. Pigs over 12 months must be double-slapped.

Smaller herds

Smaller producers may tag all their pigs, instead of slapping. However, when pigs are going to slaughter a heat-resistant tag is required.

Keeping records and tracing law-breakers

From November producers will need to keep movement records for six years. Under the new Primo rules, slaughterhouses are required to record cases of animals that are not correctly identified, and the details must be made available to the local authority.

Why we must slap more conscientiously

It is crucial to provide the highest level of traceability possible and at the moment the slapmark is the only practical way this can be achieved, says Mark Haighton, pig development manger of Geo Adams & Sons Ltd, who process up to 13,000 pigs a week.

"Unfortunately in my experience a large percentage of the carcase identifying slapmarks in the UK are appalling and makes the job of identifying an individual carcase almost impossible."

He points to bent pins, poorly inked slappers and slaps in the wrong places, all of which contribute to unreadable markings on a pig.

It doesn't have to be like this, he stresses. "I recently visited an abattoir in Germany where all carcase slaps where readable at ten paces."

His view is that regardless of recommendations from Defra, producers should slap on both shoulders.

Is it really all about traceability?

A letter to producers about the forthcoming Primo changes has angered East Anglia producer James Black.

In the letter, Terry Gurnhill of the Defra livestock identification branch says the changes are necessary following the "Congleston sow" episode last year.

"Investigations into a suspect foot and mouth disease pig which was found not to be identified on arrival at the slaughterhouse were severely hampered because of a lack of identification marks to identify where the animal had come from.

"In the event that this animal had been a positive foot and mouth disease case, any delay in tracing its movements could have had severe implications for the spread of animal disease throughout the country."

James Black describes these comments as below the belt. He says, "I am thoroughly sick and tired of Defra's continued berating of the whole industry for the misdemeanor of a single producer in relation to a single sow. The true culprits in this sorry tale were the farmer and haulier concerned and not the whole pig industry.

"Defra and trading standards chose to use their existing powers under the legislation to prosecute extremely late in the day and have used this single incident by a fringe pig keeper as a stick to beat us with ever since."

Source: National Pig Association - By Digby Scott - 12th August 2003

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