21 June 2002

Ram sellers sweating on 20-day rule

By James Garner

PEDIGREE ram breeders in England and Wales face an anxious wait this summer to see whether the government will allow an exemption to the 20-day standstill rule so ram sellers can trade freely by auction.

Under existing rules normal trading arrangements via ram fairs and sales are almost impossible because taking bought or unsold stock home from a sale will lock up a unit for 20 days.

Given the relatively short marketing period for pedigree rams, breeders face another difficult and testing tup marketing season.

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, says that is going to be a very serious problem this summer. "We will be applying pressure and will keep talking to government. It is a priority now because the whole of the sheep-selling season opens up sequentially from the pedigree ram sales."

A DEFRA spokeswoman demonstrated how confused the department has become over the ruling by struggling to acknowledge how it could affect ram sellers, commenting instead that anyone buying a ram probably did so for a reason.

The official DEFRA line remains that the 20-day standstill will continue until after the last two foot-and-mouth reports are submitted in mid-July, then a stakeholders meeting will discuss any relaxation.

But veterinary advice is still weighing against concessions, according to the governments response sent to the NSA, which hoped that pedigree sales could be governed by rules similar to those used at shows.

DEFRA vets have ruled that they cannot justify any exemptions to pedigree sales on the basis that they will be more difficult to police.

Adopting the Scottish system is favoured by Steven McLean, chief executive of the British Texel Sheep Society. Farms north of the border can set up isolation or segregation areas where breeders can keep stock that they hope to sell. Any stock that then returns from an auction can be placed in one of the areas, confining that to a 20-day standstill rather than the whole unit.

Whatever happens, breeders will be hoping for concessions soon. Otherwise Mr McLean fears the current situation might force ram producers to work outside the law to keep their businesses afloat.

Nevertheless, the Suffolk Sheep Society has already taken action and has moved its National Show and Sale at Worcester Market two weeks earlier to July 1-2, meaning a three-week gap will separate this and its next major fixture at Edinburgh on July 25-26. &#42

Ram sellers face a difficult tup marketing season unless rules governing pedigree sales and the 20-day standstill are relaxed.