16 November 2001

Licensing farms could give competitive edge

LICENSING of British livestock farms need not be bureaucratic and could give them a competitive edge over foreign counterparts, says the RSPCA.

The organisations Martin Potter told delegates attending the NSA conference that all livestock farms supplying the food chain should be licensed. "Some vets attending farms during the foot-and-mouth crisis discovered appalling animal husbandry on a small minority.

"It seems wrong that anyone could buy a farm in the UK and be responsible for a flock of sheep with no previous experience. Should such farms be supplying food?"

NSA chief executive, John Thorley, gave a cautious welcome to the idea. "I am not saying I agree or disagree with licensing, but it is something we must think about.

"The inexperienced must not be allowed to bring our industry into disrepute. A few years ago, farm assurance was a difficult concept to contemplate. Now 80% of lamb is farm assured."

Farm assurance schemes could provide the basis for licensing, saving on bureaucracy, said Mr Potter. "Licensing need not be draconian. It could be included within farm assurance schemes which cover health plans, movement recording and annual inspections. It would be best if the livestock industry oversaw development of such a scheme, setting standards which overseas competitors may find difficult to match." &#42