An enlightening visit by the minister

by 5m Editor
15 June 2004, at 12:00am

UK - If you saw a light in the skies over Elsham in North Lincolnshire yesterday, it was probably the glow from Ben Bradshaw's halo.

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The animal health and welfare minister, who cut a dash in dark suit, scarlet tie and sunglasses, endeared himself to producers recently, when he accepted his department's helpful advice on tagging.

And now he's further increased his standing by travelling to Lincolnshire on a fact-finding visit to a number of R. J. and A. E. and Godfrey pig units… and saying some exceedingly complimentary things about the British pig industry.

"I have been pleasantly surprised by what I have seen," he said. "I was aware that the British industry had the highest levels of animal welfare and that impression has been reinforced by this visit."

Pig production, he said, was clearly a highly technical business… "but that is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to welfare." And no, he wasn't offended by the farrowing crates.

"I am not interested in burdening the pig industry," he said, quoting his recent decision on tagging as an example. "I think the industry has a forward looking and pragmatic approach which to be perfectly frank other parts of the livestock industry could learn from."

But producers who shield their eyes from the ministerial glow might see clouds gathering, in the shape of a levy on pig, sheep and cattle producers.

His department had signaled that it intended to consult on an animal disease levy, said the minister. It would be unfair for the public pick up the entire cost of containing diseases such as foot and mouth.

Such levies worked successfully in other European countries, so why not in Britain? He was particularly interested in the Danish pig production levy, which covered research as well as disease costs.

The minister wouldn't be drawn on timescales or the big question of whether such a levy in Britain would be expected to cover compensation for compulsory slaughter as well as the cost of welfare slaughter. It would all depend, he said, on talks with the industry.

The ideal was not to let diseases such as foot and mouth into the country in the first place but if the worst happened there should be a system of collaboration, cost sharing and incentives.

On his one-and-a-half-hour tour of some of the Godfrey pig units, Ben Bradshaw was shown the different stages of pig production. He could do this without breaching famously strict Godfrey biosecurity rules because John and Jim G. have had glass-screen viewing areas installed in some units.

"We introduced the viewing areas because we were worried that people might think we had something to hide," said John Godfrey. "We have nothing to hide; it is just a question of taking sensible precautions against disease.

"It is much better to be able to show people what we are actually doing in our pig units and I am happy to take people round on that basis."

He said he was impressed that the minister had travelled to Lincolnshire to see how a commercial pig unit worked. "I appreciated that he took a keen interest and was obviously keen to learn."

During the questions and answers (the minister was particularly intrigued by both high-tech electronic sow feeding and the cunning use of vasectomised teaser boars), John Godfrey did his usual trick of discreetly slipping across the pig industry's shopping list, which covered such areas as waste disposal, incineration and training.

R. J. and A. E. and Godfrey run 5,300 sows, marketing 2,000 pigs a week through Lincporc. In addition to visiting pig units, the minister was also given a whistle-stop tour of the Godfrey feed mill.

Pictured above, from left: John Godfrey, local MP Ian Cawsey, and animal health and welfare minister Ben Bradshaw.

Source: National Pig Association - 15th June 2004

5m Editor