2 December 2003 (Private Eye)

For the past month there has only been one topic of conversation among Britain's pig-owning fraternity. The latest act of pure genius to emerge from the corporate mind of the department for the elimination of farming and rural affairs (Defra), with a little help from their friends in Brussels, is the need for pig owners to apply for a licence when they take their 'pig for a walk'.

Thumping onto the doormat of every pig owner in the country on 1 November came a leaflet on 'New Pig Identification Rules', telling them how to comply with the new Pigs (Records, Identication and Movement) Order 2003  Dutifully signed by that great rural affairs expert Ben Bradshaw, the minister who advertises on his website that he once came 112th in a poll of 'heroes to Britain's gay and lesbian community', Defra regarded this as a further measure necessary to comply with EC directive 92/102

What Ben and his friends have come up with is a scheme firstly to ensure that every pig in the country is marked with its EC 'herdmark', which can be recorded by means of a metal ear tag, a tattoo or a 'slap mark'. This must include '2 alpha characters followed by four digits', and the numbers of the slapped, tattooed or ear-ringed pigs must then be registered with Defra. Every time a pig moves off the 'holding', all such numbers must be recorded, with the date and other relevant details; and all such records must be kept for six years, ready for inspection by any stray passing Defra official who has nothing better to do with his time than call in for a look at the paperwork.

What elevates Ben's order into one of the finest creations of the human imagination, however, is the section which begins with the words "If you take your pig for a walk, you must have a pet pig walking licence".  This goes on to advise pig-lovers that their local animal health divisional office will issue one of these licences "at no charge". Inevitably, however, there is a catch to such  generosity. When you have got out the map and decided where you want to take your pig for a Sunday afternoon stroll, you must then notify the ministry so that "a Defra veterinarian" can "visit you and inspect your proposed route". This is to ensure, Ben goes on, that "your pig does not come into contact with disease or possibly spread disease".

So excited has one Kent farmer, Ben Garratt, become at the thought of giving useful employment to Defra's team of veterinary officials (alas only at half-strength by the latest count) that he proposes farmers should celebrate by staging a 'National Pig Walking Day', Thousands of pig-owners will simultaneously ring up Defra to ask for the services of an official to approve their proposed route. The countryside will soon be covered in Defra inspectors, earnestly checking every inch of path, field and stile, to ensure that the piggies are only taken for walkies where Ben and his officials agree it is safe for them to do so. How grateful we should all be that we have got such thoughtful gentlemen to cater for our every need. God bless Mr Bradshaw, God bless Brussels.