It’s all a load of pigs.

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I thought the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, might have a view, which he could share with us regarding the alarming statistic that 80% of all processed pig meat consumed in this country is imported. I was wrong.

I thought he might, together with his state counterparts, also have a view on the plague of  wild pigs, some twenty million many say, that roam this land and by their very existence threaten our major livestock industries. I was wrong.

I accept that in spite of what I have written those who administer agriculture in this country don’t know or don’t care or both, about the domestic pig industry and threat feral pigs present to our livestock industries.

Preamble.

It would be easy, when reading what follows, to conclude that as the author, I am suffering from an acute case of self-righteous indignation because nobody in government, anywhere in Australia, has responded in a positive way to my original article and personal letters. So before anyone has such scurrilous thoughts, I should explain myself.

I understand that it is in the view of the Australian government, as demonstrated by their actions, that it’s easier or they are more content, paying interest on the money the country has borrowed and continues to borrow, in part to pay for the shortfall in our balance of payments, that is we import more than we export, than pay that money to Australian farmers so that this country can be where it should be, self sufficient in food.

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Compiled from: ABARES Agricultural commodity statistics 2014 Table 7 by Ben Rees. The difference between the Trade balance and B.O.P is net income flow. Net Income flow comprises net flows of interest on debt , dividends and transfer payments.

I also understand that this is a free country and that Coles and Woolworths who between them control 80% of the food retailing business are free to roam the world seeking the cheapest food they can get their hands on so they can continue their price war with the objective of increasing their respective market share, so they are part of our balance of payments problem. It is quite evident they would rather do that than support the Australian pig industry, so that it can employ and deploy, by the size it could be, the latest in technology and science in the world of pig meat production, from genetics to processing. The rise in food imports and the decline in food processing in this country I have written about before —but here it is again in case you have forgotten. Trends in Australian food trade.

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Stats ABS. We are always ready to believe our own propaganda. Food exports, whether we like it or not have been falling, imports have been rising. Food processing in this country has been falling.

I will also show in a later article that not only China, but many countries within our region, like us, import thousands of tonnes of pig meat from the EU, America and Canada, when we in Australia, as it were, are on their doorstep and desperate to grow our export trade.

Am I being dramatic?

It would be easy to construe that I am being a bit dramatic when I write about the threat wild pigs present to the livestock industries in Australia. I deal with this matter specifically later in this article — there is just one thing I would like to add, well two really. I have twice seen, first hand, the devastation that Foot and Mouth disease can cause – both times in the UK. The first time when I was about 13, the family put a barrier across the narrow lanes leading to the farm. There was disinfected straw everywhere even the crows were viewed with suspicion. The closest outbreak was five miles away. The fear in my family was palpable. Their dairy herd was their pride and joy and the sheep that grazed the mountains provided stability to the tenuous hold they had on their post-war hill farm.

The second time was maybe twenty years ago, when I was working over there for a few weeks. An outbreak was traced back to northern England and within days they were searching for sheep and cattle all over Europe. Meat exports stopped and markets closed. The losses ran into billions of pounds. Both events, disasters, caused the massive loss of some of the best animal genetics in the world. When it was all over there was a debate on whether if it happened again, the UK would start vaccinating. I think it was decided it would be impractical considering the movement of livestock around the EU.

Some countries in South America do vaccinate and they have developed internationally recognised foot and mouth free zones and this has enabled them to continue to sell boxed beef into Europe. They continue to export live cattle to those countries, mainly in South America, which have F & M.

Writing letters.

I wrote to the Federal Minister for Agriculture. I didn’t get a reply or even an acknowledgement of receipt of my letter.

There are obviously more important matters of State and photo opportunities regarding national biosecurity than 20 million wild pigs – like Johnny Depp’s dogs. They are not coming back evidently, not the dogs, but Mr and Mrs Depp.

This was the letter I wrote to Minister Joyce:

global-farmer-logo

May 19 2015.

The Hon. Barnaby Joyce MP

Parliament House

Canberra.

By email: minister@maff.gov.au

Dear Minister,

Last week on my web site ‘Global Farmer’  www.globalfarmer.com.au  under the heading ‘This Little Piggy’ we discussed that the next time any of us eat bacon or ham there is an eighty per cent chance that what we will be eating has been imported into Australia, most probably from either America, Canada, Netherlands or Denmark. As you can see we import ~150,000 tonnes a year of pig meat from these countries. In ten years our imports have doubled.

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Processed pig meat imports.

 

There is a valid argument, notwithstanding the increase in population and the subsequent increase in the consumption of pig meat in Australia over the last decade, that Australian agriculture has failed to meet the challenge of providing ~ 70,000 tonnes of pig meat for home consumption. Do you have a view on why this is?

In the same article we discuss the wild pig population in Australia, which is currently estimated at over 20 million and increasing. It’s hard to imagine that there are nearly more wild pigs in Australia than people. Under good conditions a wild pig sow can produce two litters of five or six piglets a year. It is not possible to determine the damage wild pigs do to crops, pastures and infrastructure. For Queensland alone the estimates are over $100 million a year.

Our research has shown; especially in ABC reports of fourteen years ago, that the problem has been well know for many years yet the numbers continue to grow.

The article in the ‘Global Farmer’ also identifies that there is a big market for wild pig meat in Europe. So there is a market for Australian vermin. One processor is confident they can export 200,000 carcasses a year. They have exported 20,000 carcasses a month but are now short of shooters, this shortage they believe due to regulation and maybe the lack of an incentive, perhaps a bounty until the shooters become established. There is a good income available to established shooters.

A farmer in Queensland informs me that a chopper pilot he employed for mustering shot over 10,000 pigs last year in southern Queensland.

Our research has shown there are potential markets throughout Asia for wild pig meat especially in China and in other countries where there is already a high consumption of pig meat.

Do you have any suggestions on how Australia can capitalise on this potential market for wild pig meat and at the same time make a contribution to biosecurity and our constant vigilance against exotic disease entering Australia?

For it would seem to me that should foot and mouth disease enter this country, wild pigs will guarantee it becomes endemic as they have the capacity to frustrate every plan to control and then eliminate the disease. This will put our cattle, sheep, goat and pig industries in jeopardy and ruin forever our disease free status.

Mr Depp’s dogs may have been a threat to our canine population. Feral pigs present a threat to Australian agriculture, as we know it.

I have a feeling that you are going to tell me that vermin control is a matter for the individual States and Territories. So I have taken the liberty of copying this letter to all Ministers of Agriculture in Australia with the exception of the ACT.

The problem is that unless a control programme is coordinated we will never reduce the numbers and so the threat of the wild pig being the vector of foot and mouth will be reduced. I cannot foresee them being eliminated—but then again we did it with a lesser but still significant pest, the donkey.

Yours faithfully

Roger Crook

Copy to:

agriculture@ministerial.qld.gov.au

Minister.Westravanholthe@nt.gov.au

office@blair.minister.nsw.gov.au

Minister.Baston@dpc.wa.gov.au

ministerleonbignell@sa.gov.au

jaala.pulford@parliament.vic.gov.au

I did get an acknowledgement of receipt from the Minister for Agriculture in the Northern Territory and from his counterparts in South Australia, New South Wales.

Sweet Fanny Adams!

From all of the others, nothing. Sweet fanny Adams. From those that acknowledged receipt, that is as much as I got. So  all the State Ministers for agriculture, who after all, are responsible for vermin control within their respective states couldn’t give a pigs about wild pigs! Personally I find that quite deplorable.

What is even more disgraceful is that we have all seen the entourage of personal assistants, press secretaries and others that both travel with ministers and who work in their offices. I wonder what they do all day?

Unquestionably there is sufficient evidence to be certain there is a drafting system operating in every minister’s office where someone of ‘power’ and ‘intellect’ (the Lord help us) decides what is worthy of the attention of ‘their’ minister. So what a ‘no acknowledgement’ means is that my letters got drafted out on the first run in nearly every minister’s office in the land as not worthy of a reply, including the office of the Federal Minister, Barnaby Joyce. I wonder what is important to them? Polling?

So that means that importing ~150,000 tonnes of pig meat a year into Australia rather than produce it ourselves and that 15 or 20 million wild pigs roaming around Australia are not problems worthy of any action in the eyes of the agricultural bureaucracy and their respective ministers.

I also wrote to the CEO of the company that provided the original information on the market potential for wild pig meat and asked them, his company, to join the debate, they didn’t.

I have since found out that part of their business in NSW is for sale. http://www.seekcommercial.com.au/business-listing/58-032-wild-game-meat-processors-exporters/111789

I received quiet a lot of phone calls and correspondence on this article. One correspondent challenged me on the number of wild pigs, claiming there are fewer than I mentioned in the article. He was of the view that my figures were something like 20 years old.

They weren’t and aren’t. There are numbers available on the Internet from last year. I suppose everything has to be an estimate given the size of the country, so my correspondent may be right or he may be wrong. Frankly, I see little difference in the problem whether there are 15 million or 20 million, it’s still a bloody lot of wild pigs we could do without.

He also claimed that shooters weren’t being paid enough to make it worth their while. Pay more he seemed to be saying and they, the processors, will get all the shooters they want. Rob Moore said the same thing. I will write to the processor and see if I can get a response.

If it turns out that the processor is achieving the best price he can from the domestic and export markets (I did notice an upmarket restaurant in Melbourne is offering braised Wild Boar) the choices have to be:

  • ·      Whether we get some cost recovery from sales by expanding a shooting programme?
  • ·      Go for a shooting and poisoning programme without any cost recovery or
  • ·      Do nothing and let the beggars breed?

Probably, given our track record of investing in agriculture, do nothing

I also wrote to the Kimberley Land Council and the Cape York Aboriginal Land Council. I thought they might interested in the damage wild pigs are doing to ‘country’ and to the native flora and fauna in particular (turtles in the pigs stomach) and the potential for an industry that would make a contribution to their objective of self-determination. Help them stand on their own two feet. Apparently they are not interested, as neither organisation never mind replied, didn’t even acknowledge receipt of my letter. I can only conclude that one cannot help those who do not want to be helped.

Biosecurity.

I am never sure whether it is by good luck or good management that Australia has remained almost free of all the diseases of epidemic size and financial ruin that affect most other countries in the world.

When, in another life, I was a regular traveller to all points of the compass and to many counties and continents, I suppose because of my background in agriculture I was meticulous with the cleaning of all my clothes and footwear either before I left to return to Australia or as soon as I got back to Australia. Every item of clothing either went to the dry cleaners or into the washing machine. Shoes and boots were scrubbed with disinfectant.

I understand the number of visitors to this country has doubled in the last decade. Many come from Asia where there are many animal diseases we don’t want in this country, the big one being Foot and Mouth Disease (F&M) It’s endemic in India, Vietnam and all that region of the world. Just the places we are being encouraged to go and visit and from where we are seeking visitors, tourists.

It seems that the richer nations in the world are largely free of F&M but the rest of the world, including China are not. That means the majority of countries in the world have F&M disease. Foot and Mouth disease in Asia  and many of them are in our part of the world. The frightening aspect to F&M is that it affects cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and deer.

If F&M became established in Australia we would lose our export livestock and meat industries overnight.

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea Virus

There is now a pig disease, which has caused devastation in America, Canada, China, Mexico and all over Asia – so right on our doorstep. This is from  Pig Progress, a UK publication and writing about Europe:

Although we have African Swine Fever (ASF) knocking on our Eastern door, Europe needs to wake up to the devastation Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea Virus (PEDV) is causing in North America and to prepare itself. Disaster waiting to happen.

The author of the article writes about an outbreak on one farm in America: ‘For a 1000 sow herd the cost was put at $200,000 or €146,000 or on an EU basis of 250 million pigs this could cost €1.659 billion to our industry. Approximately, 28 million piglets could die.’

We haven’t heard of this disease in Australia, or at least I haven’t. It originated apparently in China and spread to America, they think via contaminated feed. It is now in many countries including America, Mexico, Canada and all over Asia. It’s on our doorstep.

The World is Shrinking.

We are constantly reminded that the world is shrinking. Tourism, though I find it hard to believe, we are told is a major industry for the future. That means we invite people from all over the world to our shores. Can our quarantine services keep up with the pressure or will more and more visitors be allowed down the ‘green line’ carrying goodness knows what either on their clothes or in their bags?

Free Trade Agreements (FTA) we are told by our leaders are to be our saviour and will guarantee us, in my case guarantee my children and grandchildren and all who follow them, a prosperous future. Trade barriers will come down and there will be free trade between countries. Presumably that means we will have one heck of an argument on our hands preventing anyone sending us anything no matter whether it be animal, vegetable or mineral.

I understand that our quarantine services and customs only manage to examine relatively few of the containers, which arrive in their hundreds if not thousands every week on our shores. What on earth will they do when the FTAs come in and there is no need to examine containers for goods liable for tariff or anything else? Will the presumption of innocence prevail?

Have a Look for Yourself.

Put ‘Wild Pigs in Australia’ into your search engine and the pages will be full in seconds of papers by learned scientists and articles like this one and the one that preceded it. I claim no originality here.

So what have I achieved? Not much really–well…nothing if I am honest.

I have achieved nothing but I have discovered something. I cannot patent my discovery because to be granted a patent the discovery has to at least be novel, non-obvious, have commercial application and be technology, so I fail on all scores.

The best I can conclude from my ‘discovery’ is that like many before me I have established, beyond reasonable doubt, that none of the powers that be in this land, from Ministers for Agriculture and all their many minions to agri-political leaders to members of the so called Peak Bodies, give a pigs arse about the amount of pig meat we import or about  the 15 or 20 million wild pigs that wander unfettered to all parts of this land.

Tens of millions of the beggars who could spread throughout this land, Foot and Mouth Disease, African Swine Fever and Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea Virus, to name but a few exotic diseases. And there is virtually nothing we could do should it happen. All devastating diseases that would rip the heart out of some or all of Australia’s livestock and meat industries and leave many producers moribund and destitute.

 

 

Roger Crook

About 

Over the last fifty years or so Roger has worked in agriculture, since 1967 in Australia. From farm labourer, to station and farm manager, then progressively to a senior management position in agribusiness as the marketing and sales manager of what was at the time the biggest agricultural chemical company in Australia, ICI (Australia- Rural Division), Roger has both a practical farming and comprehensive agribusiness background.
After a brief spell as the marketing director of a big public relations company in Perth, Roger formed his own consultancy specialising in agribusiness communications and the marketing of Australian agricultural intellectual property overseas.
Roger says he will only ever be 'semi retired'. He believes Australian agriculture is at the crossroads so he has set up the 'Global Farmer' as a forum to both pose, debate and hopefully answer some of the challenges being faced by the Australian family farm and so by Australian agriculture.

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