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Jeremy Barber, Pig farmer
"Hopefully common sense will prevail"
 real 56k

Lisa Ferguson, US Agriculture Department
"A risk of transmission of disease to the US livestock population"
 real 28k

Andrew Garvey, Meat and Livestock Commission
"We can well understand why the Americans have taken these decisions"
 real 28k

The BBC's Lisa Holland
"Scientists say the disease is harmless to humans"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 16 August, 2000, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Pig farmers coping with crisis
Baby pigs
Nursery stocks have been blood-tested for the disease
The discovery that swine fever could, after 14 years, be rearing its ugly head has pushed the UK pig farming industry to the brink of a crisis.

In the past week a handful of farmers have witnessed the mass slaughter of their "livelihoods".

Now EU and North American import bans threaten the existence of all UK pig farms lying under a cloud of potential infection.

David Barker, unaffected pig farmer and former National Farmers Union president (Suffolk), said farmers were "utterly stunned", but he remained confident the industry can ride the crisis.

He said the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Farms (Maff) has launched a "military-style operation" to stop potential spread, by blood-testing pigs and establishing disinfection zones.

He added that warm weather may have killed disease traces which might otherwise have spread in winter, like a flu virus.

So far the disease has only been traced to a small number of East Anglian farms, all contracted to rear pigs for the same multinational supplier.

'Good track record'

"The last crisis in 1984 was a small and limited outbreak," said Mr Barker.

"But there have been widespread outbreaks in countries such as Germany and Holland even well into the 1990s."


Possibly just one or a few pigs have come into contact with some contaminated meat from outside the UK

David Barker

He attributed the UK's good track record to lessons learned from the emergence of foot and mouth disease in the 50s and 60s, and "stringent rules" governing issues like pig feed quality.

The disease can be sparked if pigs are fed waste food infected by contaminated meat.

"This is unlikely to be the cause of this outbreak, because rules regarding feed mean British pigs are virtually vegetarian," said Mr Barker.

"Possibly just one or a few pigs have come into contact with some contaminated meat from outside the UK."

'Major offensive'

He said the potential disaster has prompted Maff to launch a "major offensive".

All nursery-stage pig stocks - up to 10 weeks old - are being blood-tested before they begin rearing and progress further into the supply chain.

Isolation zones have been placed around all nursery areas for extensive tests.
Pigs
Over 12,000 pigs have so far been slaughtered

"Further EU regulations mean even [unaffected] farms cannot move livestock from one zone to another. This has caused some major problems," said Mr Barker.

He said some "unnecessary restrictions" on unaffected zones have caused overcrowding and pig welfare problems.

Mr Barker said the "knee-jerk reaction" to temporarily impose bans surprised few farmers in an "already jaded" industry, but felt confidence can be quickly restored.

Compensation

The "professional actions" of the state veterinary surgeon and Maff's willingness to rapidly address the crisis, he said, limited the damage.

He said the presence of East Anglian MPs John Gummer and Gillian Shepherd, both former agriculture ministers, has promoted swift action.

Many pig farmers have gone out of business in the past few years or have had to switch away from farming pigs.

He said the strong pound has harmed an industry that has only recently regained its feet.

The imperative now, he said, is to ensure affected farmers are compensated for their losses.

When swine fever hit Holland a few years ago, farmers sought financial help from an EC producers' fund.

"I urge ministers to ensure British producers are afforded the same level of protection," said Mr Barker.

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See also:

11 Aug 00 | UK
Swine fever fears mount
22 Jan 98 | Europe
German pig imports banned
03 Jun 99 | UK
UK blacklists Belgian food
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