17 May 2002

Fast DEFRA rule change beats chaos

By James Garner

A RAPID change in DEFRAs new rules governing store and breeding sheep sales that came into force on May 15 has averted potential mayhem in livestock markets, says the Livestock Auctioneers Association.

Under DEFRAs initial proposals, markets were to choose between slaughter-only sales or sheep sales where stock could move to other venues and not just the slaughterhouse. Any sheep moving to this type of auction could only be moved under license granted by the local trading standards office.

The LAA was angered by this prospect, as lamb numbers passing through auction markets were widely expected to take a tumble.

"In this particular instance DEFRA has reacted extremely well to a situation that the industry realised was unworkable," says LAA secretary, David Brown. "The new rules would have caused mayhem and it would have been a crushing blow to live markets."

But it was only at last knockings on Friday (May 10) that DEFRA agreed to change its planned rules for just two types of sheep markets – slaughter-only and store/breeding sheep sales.

Now the guidelines have been amended, for the time being at least, to allow sheep slaughter sales to continue as before. This means that lambs can still be sold to slaughter through markets on a general license and return home if farmers do not like the price, but will instantly trigger a 20-day standstill.

However, the two new categories of sale still come into force. These are dedicated slaughter markets, which sheep can be moved to under a general license regardless of the 20-day rule.

The other new category is store markets, which farmers can only send sheep to under individual pre-movement licences, available from local authorities. These are complicated, says Peter Kingwill, chairman of the LAA. "The licenses are not very practical and they are umpteen pages long."

The new licenses will not be available until May 20, and it is unlikely that sales will be held before then. DEFRA reckons that 80% of markets already open are looking to hold store sheep sales. &#42