By John Burns, south-west correspondent

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.

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.”

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, says Mr Hills suggestion 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.

“The only way any permanent improvement can be made is for supermarkets to pay proper money for meat.”

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