2 August 2002

20-DAYSTANDSTILLRULEIS COLOSSALBURDENASAUTUMNAPPROACHES

The governments 20-day standstill rule is a mess wrapped within a muddle. Its insistence on retaining movement restrictions will mess up livestock businesses throughout the UK.

As most struggle to recover from the ravages of foot-and-mouth, the last thing they need is the straitjacket imposed by movement restrictions or the deluge of paperwork muddle that will follow in its wake.

It is a bitter blow to livestock producers in the run up to the busy autumn sales period. Not only does it jeopardise the already precarious profitability of individual producers, it threatens to de-stabilise the entire livestock sector. For years autumn sales have facilitated the transfer of stock from the uplands to the lowlands. Its difficult to see how that can continue if farmers comply with the 20-day movement rule.

The sheep sector is likely to be hardest hit. Sheep have a short breeding season compared with cattle and pigs and lack of forage on upland units makes autumn sales imperative.

Admittedly, the government has chosen to relax the rules regarding the movement of breeding rams. But that is not enough to give livestock producers a chance of fighting their way back to normality.

No one would deny that Britain needs tough rules to guard against another F&M outbreak. But why does government refuse to accept the common sense compromise of a six-day movement control? That would provide sufficient safeguard, according to a recent independent report, while not stifling livestock businesses.

And what about consistency? Why insist on the retention of Draconian movement rules, at least until November, while allowing ramblers to move freely among stock? Then, there is the continuing vexed question of a derisory import controls. If that is not a prime candidate for a muddled thinking award, its difficult to know what is.