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Muckspreader

Private Eye 24/2/04

It might seem unlikely for this column to feature that escapee from his own strip cartoon, Tory MP Boris Johnson, and even less that he should be seen posing as an expert on pig swill. But it was thanks to Beano Boris that our hapless farming minister 'Baby Ben' Bradshaw was provoked into telling yet another whopping lie to Parliament, when Beano recently raised Defra's scandalous conduct in casually wiping out a whole industry: the 62 small compnies which used to make a living gathering up hundreds of thousands of tons of food waste every year to feed to pigs.

At the height of the 2001 foot and mouth hysteria, it may be recalled, the then-farms minister Nick Brown was eager to pin all the blame for starting the crisis on a Northumberland pig farmer, Bobbie Waugh. It was claimed that he had been feeding his pigs with illegally imported meat from Chinese restaurants in Newcastle. When the Chinese restaurant trade protested, Brown beat a hasty retreat. But no such politically correct inhibitions protected the 62 providers of pig swill, on whom the Maffia then visited its full wrath by declaring the feeding of swill to pigs illegal, thus closing down all 62 firms overnight, without a penny of compensation.

Beano is among those who rightly think that Defra has behaved outrageously to the swill producers, who not only provided an extremely useful service, but before the FMD crisis had, on ministry instructions, spent a fortune on investing in new equipment to make their safe product even safer. Since their industry was declared illegal, 1.7 million tons of perfectly good animal food has simply been chucked away into landfill or washed down the sewers, Boris accordingly asked Bradshaw whether, in all logic, Defra should not now do its duty by paying compensation to all the pig swill producers whom it has driven into bankruptcy,

Bradshaw's reply was that this would be "grossly irresponsible" since it was the ancient practice of feeding swill to pigs which had been "the cause of the £8 billion foot and mouth epidemic". He has of course not a shred of proof to support this charge. But even if he did, as one of his Labour colleagues was quick to point out, it is a bit rich to condemn an entire industry for the misdoings of one pig farmer - and it was in answer to this that Baby Ben then claimed that feeding swill to pigs has been banned not just in Britain but "across the whole of the European Union".

The infuriated former swill producers pointed out that this was wholly untrue. In Germany alone, they explained, swill is still being fed to 6 million pigs, and the same is true of farmers in Austria, Italy and most other EU countries. They called on Bradshaw to retract his misleading claim, which at the time of going to press he has failed to do. Defra's callous treatment of the swill producers is now being investigated by the parliamentary ombudsman, and one former producer, Jason Podmore, is hoping shortly to sue Defra for compensation in the High Court. Initially Defra's lawyers claimed that he was not entitled to launch an action since he was bankrupt. But when it was pointed out that he was only bankrupt because Defra had forced him out of business, Mr Podmore was given leave for his action to proceed.