16 August 2002

20-day standstill rule change splits opinion

By Isabel Davies

FARM leaders claim the real significance of exemptions to the 20-day standstill rule for breeding animals is that it establishes a principle which can be used to push for further changes.

Junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley confirmed last Thursday (Aug 11) that new arrangements will be introduced from Sept 6 to cover sheep and cattle used for breeding this season.

If these animals go into strict on-farm isolation facilities for 20 days on arrival on a farm, the rest of the unit will not be locked up by the movement rule.

But the 20-day standstill rule will stay in place until at least early next year. A decision on its long-term future will be based on the outcome of independent veterinary risk assessments and cost benefit analyses. These are due to completed by the end of the year.

A DEFRA statement said there was clear scientific advice that the rule remained the best way of all-owing for the detention of disease and slowing down an outbreak.

But the government acknowledged that the restriction placed significant burdens on some sections of the livestock industry.

"DEFRA is, therefore, making these limited exemptions to enable farmers whose businesses would be substantially hit by the 20-day rule, although they will have to meet the conditions and costs involved."

Mr Morley said DEFRA was taking the farming industry on trust by making the concessions. "This concession has been offered on the clear understanding that the farming community recognises the risks involved in any failure to observe the strict isolation rules, and plays its full part in ensuring these risks are minimised."

The announcement did avert a day of protest planned for Monday (Aug 12) which could have involved motorway go-slows and supermarket blockades.

But while livestock sector representatives have backed the move, there is a difference of opinion on how helpful the concession will actually be.

The National Sheep Assoc-iation said if producers looked at the rules they should conclude they would be able to comply.

But the National Beef Associ-ation, Tenant Farmers Associat-ion and Farmers Union of Wales have warned that only a minority of farmers will benefit. The NFU said it would help a "sector".

But the groups have agreed that it was significant ministers had decided to take a more pragmatic approach.

Les Armstrong, chairman of the NFUs livestock committee said he regarded the exemptions as a big step forward. "We have made a major breakthrough. We have established a principle. We want to see if we can get it to work and once we have done that we can go for it applying to all livestock."

National Beef Association chief executive, Robert Forster, said he regarded the exemptions as a hopeful sign that attitudes were beginning to soften. &#42