15 June 2001

Industry united against 20-day movement ban

By Robert Harris

controversial government plans to introduce a 20-day ban on stock movements to limit disease spread have been universally rejected by the industry, raising hopes that the proposal will be killed off.

The 20-day standstill, triggered by the recent, rapid spread of foot-and-mouth, would have effectively quarantined holdings for that period after introducing new stock.

It raised a storm of protest when first mooted on Mar 27 by then farm minister Nick Brown, prompting fears that it would shut down the livestock industry.

The proposal was put out to consultation, and industry bodies held a series of crisis meetings to hammer out workable alternatives.

The consultation period ended on June 11. Responses revealed strong consensus between the parties, including the Meat and Livestock Commission and the NFU, which some had accused of "sitting on the fence".

The clear message was that ministers should ditch the 20-day plan and adopt alternative measures.

MLC corporate strategy director Bob Bansback said: "We fully support the objective of improving animal disease control and better traceability. But we regard some elements of the governments proposals as impractical."

The 20-day plan could also cost tens of millions of £s, he pointed out.

The NFU described the move as a knee-jerk reaction. "It would put the industry in a straight-jacket," said president Ben Gill.

And National Sheep Assoc-iation chairman David Smith said it would place "intolerable burdens" on an industry already facing oblivion.

Better traceability, especially for sheep, was a key alternative. Most believed that central recording of sheep movements, as used for cattle, was vital.

Tightening existing legislation would improve the accuracy of reports, ensuring movement details were immediately accessible, said Peter Kingwill, chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association.

The NSA said that farm movement record books could be set out in triplicate. One copy would go with animals, one would be sent to trading standards for inclusion on a central database and one would remain in the farm office.

Electronic tagging was a favoured, if expensive, longer-term approach. "Costs are such that the arguments for government paying are clear," said Mr Gill.

Archie Sains, MLC industry development adviser, also called for "pump-priming" government cash and warned that individual tag costs would have to fall. "Any device that costs £1 or more is totally unrealistic. It needs to be 50p."

Interim measures, like colour-coding sheep at marts identifying the week of sale, could be introduced, he added.

The MLC suggested that farmers could set up 20-day quarantine areas for incoming animals, allowing other animals to move freely.

Better transport hygiene controls were needed. "Weve been told by vets that this is the biggest single thing that could make a difference," said Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association.

Cutting excessive livestock movements, usually of poorer animals repeatedly offered for sale by dealers, would also help, he added. Markets could impose a minimum return period for stock and a code of practice could be introduced.

Increased uptake of farm assurance and stricter import controls on meat and livestock were also widely suggested.

Given the strength of feeling, hopes are rising that the 20-day plan will be stopped. A formal consultation between the industry and the government is due to take place on June 18, which could produce a joint working group to find a solution. &#42

Tightening up sheep movement records will help avoid the need for a 20-day ban.