22 March 2002

Market reopenings still unclear despite survey

By James Garner

CONFUSION over how many livestock markets are going to reopen after foot-and-mouth remains, despite a DEFRA survey to find out exactly that.

The survey, conducted by DEFRA health divisional officers throughout 18 regions in England and Wales, questioned 165 markets whether they planned to reopen, or were likely to remain closed.

Its findings up to Mar 12 suggest that 60%, or 99 markets, are already open or have a licence to operate. Of the rest, 25%, or 40, are still unsure whether they will strike their gavels again. The remaining 26 markets, 15% of the total, are likely to remain shut.

This is 20 more than revealed in farmers weeklys exclusive survey six weeks ago, which showed that just 5% were planning to stay closed. But that was shortly after Lord Whitty, junior DEFRA minister, gave auctions the go-ahead on Feb 11, and before most had assessed whether they could reopen under new biosecurity rules.

But the DEFRA figures may not be entirely accurate, said David Brown, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association.

"The survey reckons 26 markets will not reopen, while I think it is more like 19, and it has missed out a whole area in west Wales. I estimate it is more like 10-12% of markets that will not reopen."

Both DEFRA and the LAA agreed there were no surprises, although neither would reveal which markets were planning to close, and which were still considering their future.

"Some like Gloucester and Ripon have shut because the site is being developed. Others are smaller centres with relatively small throughputs," said Mr Brown.

"It is a very expensive job operating at the moment and some sites would have closed anyway. I am more concerned what markets are going to be around in 12 months time, rather than now. There may be some more fallout yet. There is less livestock about, particularly in areas like Cumbria."

According to a DEFRA spokesman, economic factors, or cleansing and disinfectant rules, were the main reasons most markets were unlikely to start selling again. Some sites were waiting to see whether demand for livestock auctions would increase, such as Driffield Market in East Yorks.

But Peter Mawer, of operators Cranswicks, said it planned to continue, depending on biosecurity approval. "It is an old town centre site and it will take a fair bit of money to meet new standards. At the moment we are sitting on the fence and will have to judge the volume of stock available, as this is not a store stock area." &#42