24 April 1998

Read small print before signing up with CTS agents

By Simon Wragg

EXERCISE caution before signing with agents offering free registration of cattle on to MAFFs Cattle Tracing System (CTS) as running costs are likely to be passed back indirectly to producers.

So warns ADAS head of beef and sheep, Neil Pickard, who urges producers to see how the market develops before committing themselves. "Potentially, the producer may end up paying."

Companies specialising in electronic transfer of data are being licensed by MAFF to register cattle births and movements. Registration is offered free to producers and is often accompanied by a record-keeping service.

Cost of the service is recouped by the company which sells the data to auctioneers and retailers. They in turn use the information to market cattle and demonstrate traceability.

But according to Mr Pickard, it could take two years for all cattle to entered on to the CTS. "It may be some time before sufficient data is entered to become useful to auctioneers and retailers. In the meantime, agents will be fighting for market share," he suggests.

According to Jonathan Witts of SureMark, an information provi-der, the cost to auctioneers or retailers could amount to £1.50-£2 a beast from birth to slaughter.

If this charge is passed back from auctioneers to producers, market prices for finished cattle could fall by the same amount – a cut beef producers can ill afford, warns Mr Pickard.

John Martin, secretary to the Livestock Auctioneers Associa-tion, says it is considering the use of data supplied by agents to help market cattle. But he declined to comment whether costs would be passed back to the producer or passed on to the buyer.

NFU livestock adviser, Carol Lloyd, says producers lured by the free registration of cattle birth and movements should remember the government is paying for the postcard-style passport system during the introductory two-year period.

"If producers are considering signing up with agents, read the small print in the contract as theyre likely to recover their costs somehow," adds Miss Lloyd.

Mr Pickard suggests medium sized units with a 100 cattle or less could easily register and record cattle movements on the MAFF system. Larger producers may look to transfer data electronically. "

Regardless of which system is used, MAFF is warning producers they remain responsible for ensuring data is recorded and transferred to the CTS accurately otherwise they face fines of up to £5000.

Auctioneers will be charged for cattle data, but its the producers who could ultimately foot the bill.