Keep your snouts out!

Farmer Richard Lister condemns the proposals as "madness from Brussels". (S)
Farmer Richard Lister condemns the proposals as "madness from Brussels". (S)

‘NIT-picking’ European Union officials may force a Boroughbridge farmer to wind-down a quarter of his business because they say gaps in his pig shed floors are two millimetres too wide.

Richard Lister, 49, says it would cost him £130,000 to comply with the animal welfare directive which has been drawn-up by bureaucrats in Brussels and is scheduled to come into force in January 2013.

“When I heard about it, I thought this is just another piece of madness coming from Brussels,” said Mr Lister, who farms 3,300 sows at Boroughbridge and Topcliffe, near Thirsk.

“Twenty-five per cent of my accommodation would be affected.”

In the face of a £130,000 price tag to renovate the pig sheds to the proposed EU standards, he said he would be forced to shut those pig sheds outlawed by the directive.

Mr Lister estimates such a reduction in capacity would reduce the number of pigs his farms produced by 300 - 400 a week.

Until now, pig sheds have been governed by UK standards which state there should be a 20mm gap between their concrete slats to allow for drainage.

But as a bundle of measures aimed at improving welfare standards for pigs across all EU countries, officials are proposing the gap between slats should be no more than 18mm – a difference of just 2mm, the thickness of a 2p coin.

The need for such a move is disputed by Mr Lister, who says a 20mm gap is perfectly adequate.

“I would like to show the bureaucrats the pigs and demonstrate that this is not an issue,” he said.

“If there was a health issue this would already have impacted on us with piglets getting stuck but this doesn’t happen.”

After he heard of Mr Lister’s plight, Yorkshire and Humber MEP Godfrey Bloom (UKIP) contacted the Gazette describing it as a “tragedy” if the legislation were to go ahead.

Mr Bloom said he was also concerned families’ shopping bills would rise if the proposed directive was implemented, with farmers having to pass on their increased costs to consumers.

He said: “The result of bureaucrats meddling may lead to an increase in the price of bacon, pork and ham.

“Bangers and mash and bacon butties are among life’s pleasures – they shouldn’t be made one of life’s luxuries because of such EU nonsense.

“This madness is just typical of ridiculous nit-picking ideas dreamt up by Brussels pen-pushers to justify their jobs. They should trot off back to their desks and stop interfering in our lives.”

A spokeswoman for DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said it was liaising with the European Commission and the National Pig Association (NPA) – the voice of the British pig industry – over the issue.

She said: “It is something we are quite interested in looking into more deeply.

“We’re working very closely with the NPA, meeting them more than once a month to discuss what they would like to see happen.”