10 April 1998

Ensure auction pulls its weight senders warned

By Emma Penny

PRODUCERS selling animals through auction markets are advised to weigh them before they leave the farm for sale.

That advice comes after allegations of under-weighing in at least one auction market.

According to one producer, cattle sold through his local market regularly weigh up to 50kg less than when they left the farm. Conversely, animals bought out of the same market weigh up to 25kg more when brought home than when sold in the market.

"We first spotted the discrepancy after buying new scales and weighing cattle before they went to market. We thought our scales were wrong, but tests show theyre accurate.

"I would expect cattle to lose weight on the way to market, but a loss of 50kg seems excessive. Despite high average prices achieved in the market I would rather be paid for the entire weight."

According to the producer, the cost of giving away an average 25kg with every animal adds up to £10,000 a year on 400 animals sold.

Current Weights and Measures regulations state that scales must be tested when they are installed or have undergone a major repair, but other than that there is no legal requirement for regular testing, explains Trading Standards official Ian Marriott.

"Until 18 months ago MAFF insisted on regular testing as government payments depended on weights, but that requirement has now gone."

But Mr Marriott doesnt think concerns lie with the accuracy of equipment, but could be down to auctioneers knocking off some weight when entering figures into larger digital displays.

"Cattle move around in weigh pens so read-outs can vary, and the auctioneer has to decide how much the animal should weigh and freeze the weight reading. Weights should be taken down to the lower division, so could be 5-10kg lighter."

However, Mr Marriott suggests that some auctioneers tend to knock some more weight off to represent what he or she thinks that beast might weigh once it arrives at the slaughterhouse. "As a trade sale – rather than one to the ultimate consumer – there is no offence committed by doing this if both parties agree to it."

NFU livestock adviser Carol Lloyd advises producers to study their markets terms and conditions as these can vary. "Auctioneers do reserve the right to adjust weight where, for instance, cattle are dirty."

John Martin, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association stresses that all cattle should be correctly weighed. "If there are any concerns, they should be taken up with your auctioneer. Alternatively, we can investigate."

Trading Standards Services in the local area can also be contacted where producers are unhappy about weight readings.

Where producers have scales on-farm, Signet regional manager Brian Taylor advises ensuring these are correctly calibrated and checking weights before cattle move off-farm.

"Cattle could lose 25-30kg through stress and travelling to market. Where there is a greater discrepancy, show the auctioneer the weights and explain that you are unhappy about the difference. Also ask how weights are put forward in the ring."

WEIGHING CONCERNS

&#8226 Check weight off-farm.

&#8226 Discuss with auctioneer.

&#8226 Contact Trading Standards.