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NPA Launches Campaign to Keep Out Weaner-dealers

by 5m Editor
16 July 2009, at 10:13am

UK - Citing welfare and disease problems, the NPA said it will move heaven and earth to prevent the continent's cross-border weaner-dealer trade from crossing the Channel.

NPA says it is not opposed to sitting down with would-be importers and agreeing strict quarantine procedures at departure and arrival.

But it says an unregulated trade will breach Britain's island biosecurity. And it will mean the industry becoming embroiled in damaging publicity from welfare campaigners opposed to the shipping of live animals — which would fatally undermine the British welfare premium, currently worth 18p a kilo.

Different strains of PRRS (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome) and APP (actinobacillus pleuropneumonia) have been cited by vets.

There is also concern about the continent's large wild boar population and associated classical swine fever risks — described by one continental producer organisation recently as a Sword of Damocles hanging over the whole industry.

Following rumours a shipment of weaners is due from Belgium any day now, producers have been clamouring for NPA to take direct action.

European law prevents the United Kingdom government from taking unilateral action to protect Britain's island health status.

NPA chairman Stewart Houston fears opportunistic imports could undermine the Yorkshire and Humberside Health project which has the potential to reduce production costs by 38 a pig.

Perhaps the biggest fear is that an unregulated cross-Channel trade in weaners could introduce MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) into the English pig herd.

Defra is currently surveying the national pig herd to see if, unlike mainland Europe, it remains free from the drug-resistant superbug MRSA.

If Defra’s findings confirm the English herd is free from MRSA, industry leaders will urge Defra to insist any imports of weaners to this country come from MRSA-free herds.

Testing for notifiable diseases such as classical swine fever and swine vesicular disease would not be required before weaners left Holland for England, although under intra-community law Animal Health would carry out veterinary checks for notifiable diseases at the destination premises of the pigs.

Holland became officially free of Aujeszky’s in December and any trade in live pigs is now controlled by International Trade Animal Health Certificate.

European law prevents Defra imposing unilateral checks on incoming stock. If NPA and BPEX wish to see more rigorous biosecurity checks in place, they will probably have to take up the issue with Brussels.

Pigmeat from imported weaners could not carry the Quality Standard Mark. The rule on the subject says:

"If assured pigs are imported from a third country, the producer will have to comply with legal obligations regarding the individual identification of the pigs and should be aware that meat from such pigs will be ineligible to be sold under any label indicating British or United Kingdom origin. It is the producer’s responsibility to ensure that any purchaser is aware of the origin of the pigs."

There are mixed feelings in the industry about producers who import breeding stock from Denmark and Holland. Some people deem it safe and reasonable business practice; others have doubts about such activity.

But no such ambivalence exists over the import of cheap weaners. All producers who have contacted this website or NPA condemn such an activity because of the risks it poses to the health of the British herd.

If anyone is tempted to import weaners from Holland — and the temptation is considerable as they might be nearly half the price of British weaners — they should be aware that it would be impossible for such an activity to be kept secret.

Stewart Houston recently challenged the sustainability of the current continental pig production model that sees huge numbers of pigs being sent from Holland and Denmark to be finished in Germany.

"What will happen to this trade if there is a serious disease outbreak or a change in transport rules?" he asked. "And even if there isn’t, how long will it be before Germany decides it is no longer prepared to take on everybody else’s environmental responsibilities?"

Continental producers seem to have few fears about the sustainability of the cross-border weaner-dealer model. English producers on the other hand fear it could be a disaster waiting to happen.