1 March 2002

20-day rule could close cattle marts

By James Garner

MORE livestock markets came on stream last week with the Meat and Livestock Commission reporting sales from 35 venues in England and Wales by last Saturday.

This is 29 more marts than on the week before, but even as more centres reopen, concerns are increasing that the 20-day rule could end prime stock cattle sales unless repealed soon.

The latest market to launch an attack on the standstill is Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire.

Gwyn Williams, managing director of the markets operators Williams, Watkins and Richards, has called for an "urgent amendment" to the 20-day rule.

"Livestock markets are finding it very difficult to re-establish fat cattle sales. These restrictions favour deadweight buyers and unless amended soon will result in further market closures."

He says the problem at Ross-on-Wye is that most of the markets vendors are large-scale producers, who sell stock then buy in replacements. This immediately triggers a 20-day movement restriction, but still allows sales direct to an abattoir.

Prime cattle entries at Ross-on-Wye before foot-and-mouth were typically about 250 cattle/week. Currently, entries are struggling at 30-40 head/week.

"Last week the market canvassed 50 cattle producers for prime cattle supplies, and the auctioneer only managed to succeed in getting a total of 20 head of cattle entered.

"This Draconian rule, along with the movement ban imposed on farms where cattle have not been tested for TB in the past 12 months, are threatening cattle sales in livestock marts," he says.

Mr Williams hopes individual 20-day isolation of animals, which comes into force in Scotland soon, will be introduced shortly in England and Wales.

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, says that early evidence points to fewer buyers in live marts.

"We fear that if the liveweight market is obliterated by the absence of slaughter buyers, then all prime cattle suppliers will lose in the long-term. &#42