Select Committee on Agriculture Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 5

Memorandum submitted by P D and G S Mortimer (M 6)

BACKGROUND

  P D and G S Mortimer (husband and wife) have a seven acre holding, in North Suffolk, solely producing finished pigs from a 220+ sow-breeding herd. Each week approximately 90 piglets are born resulting in 90 finished pigs, at a weight of 100kg live weight, being marketed to a local abattoir. The pigs are used for the fresh meat trade.

OUTBREAK OF CLASSICAL SWINE FEVER (CSF)

Sequence of events to date:

  8 August 2000—Became aware of the outbreak of CSF at 8 pm as a result of the local press telephoning and asking for information—no indication as to the location of the infected units.

  9 August 2000—Lack of any communication about the confirmation of CSF resulted in complete confusion for farmers, haulage operators and abattoirs. Had to wait one and a half hours with sows on a trailer outside my unit before being cleared to load as there was no clarification where the Surveillance Area was actually located and the abattoir refused to accept pigs until it was known if we were outside the area.

  11 August 2000—Hear, unofficially, that a nursery unit at Rumburgh is to be slaughtered out. Rumburgh is about three miles "as the crow flies" from my unit.

  12 August 2000—Received a telephone call from the Marketing Company who sell our finished pigs to say that I am unable to send the 175 pigs, booked for slaughter on Monday 14, to the abattoir as am now placed in an Infected Area. Checked the NPA's website to ascertain the situation and find the details of the area there described but because of our location and MAFF's reluctance to pinpoint the parish at the centre of the disease we are still unclear as to whether we are in a Protection or Surveillance area.

  14 August 2000—175 pigs not sent for slaughter. Still no communication from the Ministry about whether my unit is in a Surveillance Area and/or Protection Area. Attended the CSF Crisis Meeting called to meet with Baroness Hayman and MAFF. At this meeting still no confirmation about the location of infected units and no helpful clarification about future plans.

  15 August 2000—Finally received official notification from MAFF confirming that we are in two, we presume different areas. However, confirmation as to where the infected unit is in relation to this unit has not been made. The "Bush Telegraph" is definitely more efficient.

  18 August 2000—The Minister states that CSF in pigs is a business risk.

  26 August 2000—The Minister announces the Pig Welfare Scheme with no compensation payments, therefore no pigs are being entered into the Scheme, instead they are being stockpiled on farms—to give them away is the certain road to bankruptcy.

  29 August 2000—The Welfare Scheme starts. Still no pigs have been entered into the scheme.

  1 September 2000—The Minister offers £10 for a pig up to 60kg weight and £35 for pigs over 60 kg weight.

  7 September 2000—My farm is forced to enter 220 pigs into the scheme as the pigs are overweight and causing welfare problems, average weight sold is 118kg per pig.

  9 September 2000—The Minister revises the Welfare Scheme payments retrospectively. Up to 45kg: £10, 45kg-100 kg: £30 and over 100kg: £50. Plus a £15 industry top up to be raised by a levy. (As of 29 November 2000 this has not yet been actioned).

  This levy should not have been necessary, as the government should pay full market value for pigs entering the Scheme. The Minister states that it is unprecedented and a one-off. If the British regulations had been re-assessed following the Dutch outbreak of CSF in 1998-99 it would have been realised that EU law had superseded the existing British regulations in which, before 1990, pigs could go into the food chain, and a strategic plan to deal with this situation could have been put in place.

  21 September 2000—100 pigs sent into the welfare scheme. The average weight was 119.20kg live.

  11 October 2000—140 pigs sent into the welfare scheme. The average weight was 116.42kg live.

  19 October 2000—200 pigs sent into the welfare scheme. The average weight was 119.70kg live.

  1 November 2000—200 pigs sent into the welfare scheme. The average weight was 110kg live.

  3 November 2000—The failure to discover outbreak number 16 at Hempnall caused mayhem for both the Ministry and pig farmers in the zone as it was a heavy and old virus.

  6 November 2000—The Welfare Scheme changed to how it currently stands. £12 plus 55p per kg capped at £75 per 115 kg pig.

  15 November 2000—The Minister announces 3km "buffer" zone kill in South Norfolk. This should have been carried out weeks earlier as the Dutch vets advised. Outbreak 16 (3 November 2000) would not then have occurred as it was only 1.25 km from outbreak number six. (suggested reason for number 16 not being previously slaughtered out was that it was a very large herd and the bill for valuation for the pigs would have been very large.)

  23 November 2000—476 pigs sent into the Welfare Scheme. The average weight was 104.37kg live.

Financial Loss Summary for P D and G S Mortimer

Total number of pigs entered into the Welfare Scheme is 1,336.

Payment received from the Intervention Board
£69,430
Total payment due from the Intervention Board (industry levy not yet raised)
£97,538
Still waiting for final payment of
£28,108(a)
True market value for pigs entered into the Welfare Scheme
£119,246
Total loss (after all payments from Intervention Board received)
£21,708(b)
Current outstanding losses at 29 November 2000(a + b)
£49,816*


  *  no interest charges or increased costs have been taken into account.

  The Minister, Mr Brown, said there would be no discrimination between the way this country's farmers would be treated and the way the Dutch farmers were treated by their government—that should mean English farmers should receive the full market value for all pigs caught up in the swine fever surveillance areas just as the Dutch farmers did in their CSF outbreak.

  In our situation today, we remain held under restrictions until Christmas and are being discriminated against as the market value price is rising steadily and we are still only receiving basic compensation. We need the extra money that is to be raised by the industry levy immediately, even if a bridging loan has to be arranged in the interim.

  My breeding unit is no longer able to run efficiently as I am unable to buy in replacement breeding stock or cull the old breeding stock at the proper market value. This will have long term repercussions on the viability of my herd.

  Ministry vets have now revealed that in the 3km South Norfolk zone, where all commercial pigs are in the process of being slaughtered on farm to create "buffer" zones, pet pigs are not being treated in the same way. They are not being slaughtered therefore they remain a potential source of infection of CSF.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE CSF OUTBREAK:

  Being unable to move pigs off the unit at full market value has a number of consequences:

  Loss of income—Results from being unable to sell pigs at true market value.

  Continuing and increasing costs—Costs of feeding and attending the pigs have increased as the animals have been held back to maximise the income and qualify for the Welfare scheme.

  Increased borrowing from bank—To meet these extra costs money has had to be borrowed from the bank.

  Threat of bankruptcy—After recovering from the recent difficulties of low prices there is the very real threat of bankruptcy. Finances are already stretched and Bank overdrafts will not last for long. How long before the banks—which are not charitable institutions—foreclose on many businesses affected by CSF? Further borrowings will need to be paid back and will the money be there?

  Unable to plan financially—There can be no planning with the bank as to how much money will be needed or how long it will be before any real income will be received since it is not known for how long there will be Movement Restrictions in place.

  Future financial instability—Combining the sums of money borrowed with increased costs the future financial sustainability of the unit has to be questioned.

  Impact on the Farm Assurance Standards—The Intervention Board has been overloading lorries and using goads, which are banned under the Farm Assurance Welfare Scheme. It would seem there are double standards.

  On a personal level the effects of this outbreak are immeasurable.

  Stress to the family—This stems from:

    (a)  initially being kept in the dark as to the location of the infected units;

    (b)  the uncertainty about the immediate future (time spans, ability to market the pigs); and

    (c)  worry about the financial implications of CSF, knowing that bankruptcy could be a reality and this means losing our home.

  Employee stress—employees are also suffering as they fear redundancy and the loss of future financial security. They are highly skilled pigmen who know no other trade.

CRITICISMS OF THE HANDLING OF THE OUTBREAK OF CSF TO DATE:

  Lack of official information—The first official communication was received on 15 August 2000. This was four days after confirmation of CSF on a unit about three miles from my unit.

  Access to information—Had there not been access to the Internet on this unit we would have had no detailed knowledge as to when the Surveillance Areas were put in place or how widespread they were. Some farmers do not have computers, access to the Internet or fax machines—the only updates they have received have been by word of mouth or the press. One producer said that the only way they kept up to date was by reading the local newspaper. As the outbreak has continued the updating of the Ministry website has been too slow (up to three days behind).

  Legislation—The legislation being used to handle this CSF outbreak is dated 1956, which is not applicable to the structure of today's pig industry and a review must be a priority.

  Ministry co-ordination—database inadequate. Ministry officials rang to arrange to do a blood test while their colleagues were already on the farm carrying one out.

  Lack of urgency—There seems to have been a marked lack of awareness by the Government and the Ministry in London of the dire consequences of their inability to respond adequately to the situation quickly enough. As a result, orders from London to the people in the field seem to have been out of touch with the reality. To the farmers it seems to have been government by cheque book and this can only result in the undermining of the efforts of the field staff and farmers to do what they know is necessary to eradicate this outbreak of CSF.

  We would like to thank the local operation at Bury St Edmunds for the help they have tried to give and their understanding of the stresses and difficult position we are in.

29 November 2000


 
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