15 March 2002

Nod for half English and Welsh marts

By James Garner

ALMOST half the livestock markets in England and Wales have received licences allowing them to resume operations.

Of the 175 markets that were operating before foot-and-mouth struck last February, 80 had received licences last week and several more were in the pipeline, says a DEFRA spokesman.

The Meat and Livestock Commission, which reports market prices, says that 78 centres were recording prices at the close of play on Monday this week. This is up by 16 from the week before.

Consequently, throughput has picked up. Over 46,000 hoggets passed through auction rings last week, which is 12,000 more than the week before, but still only 35% of levels achieved during the same week in 2000.

Prime cattle numbers also went up last week, with a further 700 head passing under the hammer. But 4200 beasts is still a third of corresponding 2000 levels.

Markets are still finding prime cattle sales challenging, but Peter Kingwill, chairman of the Livestock Auctioneers Association, believes there has been a "thaw" in the relationship between some abattoirs and livestock markets over the past week.

Rumour had suggested that a few processors were refusing to take cattle from agents who buy through a live ring, but the British Meat Federation has dismissed such claims.

"I have asked one or two companies, and all have said no to this accusation," said BMF director general Peter Scott. "I think auctioneers are disappointed with the number of stock in markets and I do believe people are wary of dealing with dealers."

The government also seems to share this view. Junior DEFRA minister, Lord Whitty, clearly spelt out to delegates at last weeks Industry Forum conference in London that it hoped sheep and cattle would be subject to fewer movements in future.

"Don Currys report [on the future of farming] says sheep are involved in as many as eight journeys through livestock dealers and markets, between their birth place and the finishing farm.

"Some of this is traditional and necessary. But eight journeys, eight changes of management and eight lots of transport costs? I hope the Industry Forum will examine whether this is really necessary or sensible," said Lord Whitty.

"I do query whether markets are the greatest form of transparency in the chain. I think auction markets have a role in future, but probably less of one."

But Mr Kingwill does not agree. "Stock will still have to be collected together and bringing them together in a market does not make the disease risk any worse. We will fight long and hard to preserve the movement of stock and the process of fixing a price in a live market." &#42