17 August 2001

DEFRAplan may reduce role of livestock marts

By James Garner

LIVESTOCK markets look set to play a diminishing role, if DEFRA can enforce new rules that confine the way they operate.

Junior DEFRA minister, Lord Whitty, told an NFU sheep conference at Warwick University last week (Aug 2) that, contrary to popular belief the government was not determined to destroy livestock markets, but even so, the way they operated would have to change.

"I think markets will play a vital role in the future," he said. "But I suspect it will be a diminishing role with deadweight marketing becoming more important."

Speaking exclusively to FW, he said that when markets restarted, it would be within a restricted regime, particularly for sheep marts, which would have to implement further controls.

These could include continuous licensing of animals in and out of markets to track sheep movements. Vets would also be required to regulate movements in the early stages.

"Provenance and traceability are the two main things for the sheep industry. The objective of the 20-day standstill was to prevent uncontrolled intermingling of sheep after sale."

Alternatives to the 20-day standstill were now being sought following universal disapproval of the scheme during consultation. But Lord Whitty warned that if other options were unacceptable then the ill-fated proposal could return.

David Brown, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, said the 20-day rule was Draconian and other measures must be sought.

He expected individual identification and electronic ID to be back on the agenda, which would tie in with EU goals on sheep traceability.

Tagging sheep arriving at markets with individual numbers was one possibility. "We can then trace their movements from that market. It is not welcome, but if it is the price we have to pay then we have to do it," he added.

Meanwhile, cattle markets are likely to start in England and Wales on a restricted basis in late September/October in F&M-free counties.

Mr Brown estimated that there are 56 markets in proposed F&M-free counties, but expected only 30 or 40 to meet DEFRAs conditions.

"It seems that the physical conditions for markets to operate will be the same as collection centres."

Sheep seem unlikely to be traded through markets until next year, putting paid to the National Sheep Associations hopes for some breeding sales in F&M-free counties next month.

But no movements in the sheep sector would only lead to another welfare crisis. Ben Gill, NFU president, added: "We have to get on with our business, but we need to find a common sense approach to meet the necessary biosecurity standards."

Massive blow

John Thorley, NSA chief-executive, said no movements was a massive blow that could have some very serious consequences, not least for the welfare disposal scheme.

"We have not given up, we are meeting government vets to see if we can move things on. We would like to achieve some sheep movement in the F&M-free counties."

State Veterinary Service staff suggested that commercial movements between farms could restart soon in counties designated provisionally F&M-free. &#42