By Simon Wragg

LIVESTOCK markets are being asked to sign up to Assured British Meat to fill in one the few uncompleted links in the organisations food safety chain.

But auctioneers say they will be obliged to join or risk the creation of a two-tier market for prime stock.

In recent weeks ABM has held regional meetings with auctioneers spelling out the standards which will have to be met, including handling and welfare of stock, staff training, administration checks and inspections.

ABM membership will cost markets 350 annually. However, some auctioneers say it may cost up to 1000 to comply with extra demands.

According to Ian Lawton, Bakewell-based auctioneer and chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, the costs will have to be absorbed internally and commission charges levied on vendors should remain unchanged.

That is welcome news for producers, particularly those who have already signed up to farm assurance schemes and bearing the cost of membership and inspection (a minimum of 65/year before on-the-ground costs).

But auctioneers are concerned that markets which do not sign up could see stock values fall where buyers are forced to source only assured animals through certified outlets.

“Stock values are unlikely to go up at markets who join, but those outside the scheme could see a negative effect (on prices),” adds Mr Lawton.

It is unlikely vendors will see many changes to the delivery and handling of animals at auctions.

However, auctioneers have rejected responsibility for checking assured stock is transported to and from market using only ABM-certified hauliers.

That is likely to become producers responsibility, with farm vehicles having to be inspected for compliance in the near future.

Once ABM approval has been achieved, auctioneers believe there should be no reason why major multiples cannot return to sourcing stock through the auction.

“Its one less reason for them not to,” says Andrew Wallace of Cheshire-based Wright-Manley.

Progress by auctioneers will be a further stepping stone for ABM to get major retailers signed up.

“If supermarkets dont join, we could see a similar position to FABBL with members who feel theyre not getting any benefit dropping out,” warns Mr Lawton.