18 January 2002

Biosecurity top priority in new rules for marts

By Simon Wragg

SWEEPING changes to the way livestock markets operate were unveiled this week as auctioneers and DEFRA prepare for the resumption of live auctions from the middle of next month.

The rules, contained in a draft of the Market, Sales & Lairs Order 2002, will see new arrangements for vendors, buyers and market staff in a bid to tighten biosecurity at livestock markets in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Peter Kingwill, chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, says the new regulations, expected to be rubber-stamped this week, are "workable", but admits that some auction sites could remain closed for the immediate future.

Maintaining biosecurity

"We all recognise the need to maintain biosecurity and some smaller, regional markets may not be able to conform with the new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) issued by DEFRA.

"But as time passes and, hopefully, with it the risk of fresh outbreaks of F&M diminishes, we would expect procedures to be reviewed."

Auctioneers are expected to receive DEFRAs 18-page document next week.

And it will require a joint effort from vendors, buyers, hauliers and auctioneers to ensure biosecurity measures are upheld, says Mr Kingwill.

In addition to routine disinfection of vehicles carrying stock in and out of markets, all drivers must submit a declaration, including the registration number of the vehicle, stating it has been cleansed and disinfected between loads and visits to auction sites.

DEFRA says declarations will be used to carry out spot checks. Operators can submit their own declaration for journeys under six miles to auction sites, or a certificate of cleansing and disinfection for longer journeys.

Mart staff, who will have to man vehicular entrances to auction sites at all times, will be allowed to turn away soiled vehicles, although DEFRA does make allowance for road dirt.

"It is in everyones interest to police the system thoroughly. But I would say that vehicles carrying stock are as clean as they have ever been due to precautions that have been observed since February last year," says Mr Kingwill.

Under the SOP, no animal may be unloaded until the relevant paperwork has been checked. Vendors, buyers, agents and staff have to be recorded by marts and pass through foot dips before entering and leaving loading, handling and penning areas.

Traditional market dress will also have to change. All persons entering the market will be expected to wear "footwear capable of being cleansed and disinfected".

It is likely that rubber boots, waterproof leggings and overalls will become the norm.

DEFRA makes allowances for disposable overalls although these have to be incinerated after each sale day. Freshly laundered protective clothing, such as smocks and leggings are also acceptable.

Joint responsibility

Members of the public are also expected to comply. Notices and footbaths must be provided at all public entrances.

"This will be a challenge for every market," says Mr Kingwill. "Markets are public places. Hopefully, peer pressure driven by the industrys desire not to repeat the events of the past year will kick in. It will be a joint responsibility between markets and the farming community to enforce these regulations."

Access to all areas will no longer be the norm for visitors. Under the SOP all persons handling stock, such as those checking the teeth of sheep, will have to be registered and gain permission to enter different livestock zones defined by the market.

Mr Kingwill acknowledges this will be a big change to pre-F&M operations.

Unless SOPs are enforced markets could have licences suspended or removed.

Minor compliance issues must be dealt with before the next market day and satisfy the attending veterinary officer.

A big non-compliance issue – such as improper disinfection of the market site between sale days – could lead to temporary closure until approved by vets.

"Throughout F&M, vets have never been willing to compromise biosecurity and we have to support that stance. It is in nobodys interest to cut corners," says Mr Kingwill.

The burden on market operators will be significant and the cost of implementing the SOP will be a big factor determining whether costs to vendors change.

Where markets wish to operate multi-species sales on the same day, each area must be licensed and operate under its own SOP, says DEFRA.

"Although the template issued by DEFRA is restrictive, it is at least workable for many sites," says Mr Kingwill.

"We will press DEFRA to reassess the risks in time and request that restrictions put in place are relaxed. But I believe we can expect to have the procedures with us for a large part of 2002, albeit under regular review." &#42

LICENCE PROCEDURE

&#8226 Apply for licences.

&#8226 Standard Operating Procedure document to be submitted to divisional veterinary manager.

&#8226 Staff to be trained in biosecurity controls.

&#8226 Licence issued if vet agrees.

&#8226 Licence under review.

VEHICLES

&#8226 Dirty vehicles not allowed.

&#8226 Disinfection in and out.

&#8226 Declaration of cleansing and disinfection including vehicle registration number.

&#8226 Must meet movement rules.

&#8226 Drivers to disinfect beforere-entering vehicles.

VENDORS, BUYERS, AGENTS

&#8226 Must be recorded with auctions.

&#8226 Wear appropriate clothing.

&#8226 Authorisation to enter stock areas.

&#8226 Dip boots where required.

STOCK

&#8226 Remain unloaded until paperwork cleared.

&#8226 Only handled by authorised persons.

&#8226 Subject to existing veterinary inspections.

STAFF

&#8226 Wear appropriate clothing.

&#8226 Dip boots where required.

&#8226 Change clothing between some duties.

&#8226 Keep log of contact with animals.

VISITORS

&#8226 Wear appropriate clothing.

&#8226 Must not handle livestock.

&#8226 Observe biosecurity rules.