Pre-movement testing of cattle for bovine TB is one of the biggest threats to auction markets and livestock producers for the past 25 years, say industry experts.
South-west NFU director Anthony Gibson told Farmers Weekly the requirement to test all cattle over 15 months old before movement off a holding would dramatically reduce the number sold through live auctions.
“It could leave us almost in a foot-and-mouth situation, where people have to sell their cattle direct to the abattoirs.”
Pre-movement testing is due to start on 20 February, and will require all finished cattle in one- to two-year interval testing parishes to be checked for TB before they can be moved off the holding.
Most farms in the south-west will fall into this category, and testing is likely to cost 9 a head, but could be as high as 20 a head.
Any cattle that are not tested can be sold direct to an abattoir or to an exempt finishing unit.
However, DEFRA is proposing that live markets for untested cattle will have to be held on a different day to the normal auction.
This was unfeasible, said Mr Gibson, and would leave livestock producers with little choice but to sell direct to slaughter.
Large abattoirs would then have a stranglehold over beef prices, he added.
Chris Dodds, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association, said the organisation was trying to persuade DEFRA to allow markets to mix tested and untested cattle.
“It is proven that the chance of transmission of TB between animals in a short period of time is minute,” he said.
“We’re not asking to sell untested cattle as store cattle – they will be sold to abattoirs or exempt finishers.
But we are getting the impression that DEFRA won’t reconsider.
“It is going to be devastating and we are meeting our lawyers with a view to taking action.”
Ben Messer-Bennetts, a consultant with Lodge & Thomas, which runs Truro market, said the rules as they stood would be catastrophic.
The market’s throughput could fall by 40% on stores, 50% on finished cattle and 100% on fat cows, he said.
“This will be far worse than foot-and-mouth.”