By Robert Harris

MEAT and Livestock Commission officials have put forward a cheaper and more practical alternative to the governments proposed 20-day standstill for sheep and cattle.

The MLC presented its plan to ministers on Monday, the deadline for the industry-wide consultation on the 20-day proposal.

The governments proposal is designed to counter the spread of diseases like foot-and-mouth by effectively quarantining holdings for 20 days after moving stock in.

But the commission, which came under attack from some industry quarters for seemingly “sitting on the fence” when the move was announced, reckons its alternative strategy will achieve the same level of biosecurity at less cost.

“We fully support the governments objective of improving animal disease control and better traceability,” said Bob Bansback, MLC corporate strategy director.

“But we regard some elements of the governments proposals as impractical.”

The 20-day plan could also cost tens of millions of pounds, he pointed out, and some farmers may not be able to afford it.

The 10 options that make up the plan are:

  • Set up 20-day quarantine areas on holdings for incoming animals, allowing other stock to move normally;
  • Unsold stock at market should only be allowed to return to holding of departure;
  • Introduce compulsory sheep identification, ideally using cheaper electronic technology;
  • Licence collection holdings/centres to raise standards;
  • Eliminate out-of-sale trading at auction marts;
  • Set up slaughter-only markets, with no stock returned home;
  • License dealers and traders, supported by a code of practice;
  • Temporary marking of sheep at marts with week of sale until full identification is introduced;
  • Improve hygiene controls during transport; and
  • Increase farm assurance membership.
The MLC also recommended that these measures be adopted throughout the EU to avoid penalising UK farmers.

A formal consultation meeting between industry and government is due to take place on 18 June.

Mr Bansback hoped a small joint working group will be established to explore the options and devise workable solutions.

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