21 June 2002

Efforts intensify for an easing of the 20-day standstill rule

By Isabel Davies

FARM leaders are redoubling efforts to persuade the government to relax the 20-day standstill rule after picking up on hints that DEFRA officials may not introduce much-needed changes before the autumn sales.

Representatives suggest in recent days they have detected a change in attitude of officials which leads them to fear that farmers may not be given increased flexibility.

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, told farmers weekly stakeholders had believed a change was on the way because they had been given a document setting out possible options for the future.

Those included allowing farmers to isolate animals they had not managed to sell away from the flock without locking up the unit for the next 20 days, reducing the number of days to six or restricting the number of times an animal can move through a market.

But at a meeting on Thursday (Jun 13), it was suggested to stakeholders that "the industry had got into a mindset that was unrealistic", said Mr Thorley. Officials made it clear the restriction would not be relaxed until after the three inquiries into foot-and-mouth had reported back in July.

Mr Thorley said that despite repeated efforts by stakeholders they had not managed to get the government to fully understand changes were desperately needed.

"The concept of anything other than the 20-day standstill does not look hopeful," he said. "There is still a lack of understanding of the need to move stock within a relatively short period of time. Unless we have some movement the industry will be in chaos."

Les Armstrong, chairman of the NFUs livestock committee, said the fact the government was waiting to make a decision was a huge problem for people trying to plan for the autumn.

DEFRA claimed it had scientific evidence suggesting the rule should stay in place but the NFU had still not seen what this was, he said.

"We have spent countless days talking about [changes to the rule] and it seems as if they are unprepared to take a decision."

Sion Aron, policy adviser for the Farmers Union of Wales, warned that some farmers would not adhere to the regime if they were not given greater flexibility.

National Beef Association chief executive, Robert Forster, added: "We have a six-week window to buy and sell for the coming season. Thats it! If no revisions are made to the movement rules then I can foresee farmers resorting to direct action again."

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