Movement system is under fire
By John Burns
FREQUENT livestock movements might have allowed foot-and-mouth disease to spread from one end of the UK to the other with devastating speed.
This claim has sparked calls for a change in the way stock can be bought and sold. Beef producer and Devon NFU chairman David Hill wants a review and questions the current system.
"The unrestricted and unlimited right to buy, sell, separate and redistribute livestock on an uncontrolled timescale might be at the heart of the current foot-and-mouth crisis," he says.
Mr Hill wants a compulsory time interval to be introduced between an animal being bought and being offered for sale again. "I am open to advice from the veterinary authorities on the correct time to be allowed between purchase and separation or resale."
However, Livestock Auctioneers Association chairman Peter Kingwill doesnt agree that more restrictions will be the answer.
"It comes down to practicalities, and it isnt how many times an animal is sold that is relevant here, it is where it is moved to."
Les Armstrong, NFU livestock chairman, says the issue needs discussing when the crisis is over. "The overall efficiency of livestock marketing needs looking at."
Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, says Mr Hills suggestions is a "legitimate area for discussion".
"We need to remember the functions of auction marts. In a stratified livestock system – hills to lowlands, breeders to finishers, and so on – youve got to have a collection and distribution system.
"But now when we all move around with increasing ease, and livestock too, it may well be time to re-examine the details of the system."
Willy Cleave, whose sheep buying and distribution business based at Highampton in Devon, has ended up at the centre of the current foot-and-mouth outbreak, supports the role of livestock marts but believes there will have to be changes.
"Without those markets, the supermarkets will have it all their own way. Whatever changes are made will probably add to somebodys operating costs. Im telling people who say things will soon be back to how they used to be, that they wont.
"This isnt going to blow over. But the only way any permanent improvement can be made is for supermarkets to pay proper money for meat. We want to pay farmers a fair price but we can only give what we can get."
• Too unregulated.
• Can spread disease.
• Rules re-vamp needed?
Time for a review? asks David Hill. Moving sheep and cattle around the country could be to blame for the current foot-and-mouth crisis.