12 April 2002

Business as usual with 91% trading

By James Garner

TWO months since the government gave the go-ahead for live markets, 91% of sites that operated regularly before foot-and-mouth struck last year are trading or intend to reopen, DEFRAs latest figures show.

But the Meat and Livestock Commission maintains that the number of sites reporting prices is far lower, at just 75 to 85 centres a week. So several must have gained licenses to operate as store markets only, are planning seasonal sales, or they are still considering their future.

According to DEFRAs earlier survey, reported in farmers weekly (Business, Mar 22), 26 markets were to stay shut. Its recent figures suggest 155 markets are in the process of reopening, leaving only 15 that have closed their gates in the wake of the F&M outbreak.

Only Norwich Market has announced it is to close over recent weeks and even that could still be saved by a rescue bid from a spirited group of local farmers.

But resuming sales does not guarantee a markets future, says David Brown, secretary of the LAA. "If the 20-day rule stays in place, it will be a question of how many stay open, rather than how many have reopened. It will kill off markets."

He adds that the "Draconian" 20-day rule is impossible to comply with for many farmers and is having a serious impact on their businesses. The LAA has put forward an alternative measure to DEFRA, but remains unsure of any timetable to reform the unwelcome rule.

The plan is to have an individual standstill on animals passing through markets. "It is easier for cattle under their individual identification system, but it can be made to work for sheep by having a rolling colour coding system that lasts for three weeks," he says.

Mr Brown says that under the LAAs proposal, markets would mark lambs sold with, for example, a red marker on the head for one week of sales. Any lambs that then returned to a market within three weeks with a red mark on their heads would not be eligible. &#42