26 July 2002

Relaxation of 20-day

rule by end of August?

By Isabel Davies

LIVESTOCK sector representatives are insistent that government has the information it needs to make a decision in the next few days on whether the 20-day standstill rule can be relaxed.

The Lessons to be Learned report into foot-and-mouth recommended that the 20-day standstill should remain pending a detailed risk assessment and wide-ranging cost-benefit analysis.

A similar message came out of the Royal Society report into F&M that was published last week. It said that quantitative risk assessments of a shorter time period were urgently needed.

The Lessons to be Learned report said it was understood that there were economic and practical implications to the ban. "But the consequence of relaxing these restrictions could, in some circumstances, be devastating."

But despite the recommendation stakeholders hope there will be progress on the issue when they meet junior DEFRA minister Lord Whitty on Monday (July 29).

DEFRA has already promised it will take an early decision on the animal movement rules to apply from late August.

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, said he did not believe the recommendation changed the situation.

"I do not regard that as a recommendation the 20-day standstill should continue," he said. "It says it should be held until the risk assessment but that is what the industry has been doing for the last 12 months."

Mr Forster said that it was just not an option for the rule to remain in place as it was having such an enormous impact on the industry.

"I think farmers universally accept that there has to be some new anti-F&M regime but they will not take something as restrictive as this."

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said the report hadnt realised there had been a great deal of work already done on economic losses associated with the ban.

As far as he was concerned a reduction in the number of days was "non-negotiable" and that was the message that he had been trying to impress on DEFRA in advance of Mondays meeting.

"I am hopeful of getting it relaxed," he said. "But then weve had our hopes raised before and then had them dashed."

Ben Gill, NFU president, said the union believed livestock movement controls were one of the key elements of any disease strategy but current rules were too rigid.

"We have suggested an alternative approach, based on our own extensive cost/benefit analysis and veterinary risk assessments.

"We believe that this will be a more practical and manageable way of meeting our shared objectives," he said. &#42