17 August 2001

Brits start stock

auctions again

By Shelley Wright

and Alistair Driver

FINAL preparations are being made for Britains first livestock auction in six months after the partial lifting of a ban imposed because of foot-and-mouth disease.

About 500 store cattle are set to go through the ring on the Scottish island of Orkney on Mon, Aug 20. More sales of live cattle and sheep will begin in all areas of Scotland, except Dumfries, Galloway and the Borders, from Sep 1. Markets in England and Wales could re-open shortly afterwards.

Strict biosecurity measures will help minimise the risk of F&M. Orkney Auction Mart manager John Copeland said buyers would be prevented from handling livestock. They will have to wear rubber boots and protective clothing, such as disposable plastic overalls, or boiler suits that can be washed when farmers go home.

Sales of both store and fat stock will be allowed, but will not take place on the same day at the same market. A 72-hour gap between sales will allow for disinfection. After sale, fat stock will go directly to slaughter. Store animals will not be allowed to move from their new owners farm unless it is to slaughter.

Willie Blair, secretary of the Scottish Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers, said: "We have been in a dark tunnel. Now, although still in the tunnel, we at least have a little light. It is a huge relief. We have 30,000 beef cows on Orkneys 19 islands and we are just approaching the traditional time for selling the stores."

Orkneys last livestock sale was on Feb 19 – days before the first F&M case for more than 30 years was confirmed on the British mainland. Soon afterwards, live auctions were banned. Agricultural shows have also suffered – the Devon County Show went ahead last week without any livestock at all.

But livestock auctions could re-open next month in English and Welsh counties that have remained free of F&M, said a DEFRA spokesman. Government officials and vets are discussing whether re-opening markets will risk the spread of the disease, he said. The government may re-open cattle markets in time for the autumn movements of livestock, indicated the spokesman.

The markets most likely to re-open first are those in west Wales and the east and south coasts of England which have been designated provisionally free from F&M. But it is unlikely that the markets will deal with sheep, which are considered at much greater risk of spreading the disease.

David Brown, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, said he hoped to meet DEFRA officials to discuss the possibility that markets could re-open in early September. &#42

"We have been suggesting markets that have been acting as collection should be approved as cattle markets," he added.