Establishing a risk-based regionalisation system to allow trading to restart after foot and mouth looks like a sensible way forward on the face of it, writes Livestock Editor Jonathan Long.
But, the suggestion, which could see Surrey and all adjoining counties classified as high-risk, with the remainder of the UK as low risk, creates a range of anomalies.
The surrounding counties, while not livestock dense are populated by pockets of livestock on ground less suited to arable production. Large tracts of Romney Marsh for instance are still densely populated by sheep.
And while Kent and Sussex may share borders with Surrey, their furthest most points are some distance from the infected premises. Indeed, Ramsgate, Kent, is more than 80 miles from the cluster of infected premises around Egham and Winchelsea Beach, East Sussex, is more than 70 miles away.
Travelling both these distances in other directions would take you as far as Bristol and Peterborough, respectively.
Beckley, East Sussex-based sheep producer and haulier Frank Langrish said the system would be workable for a short period of time, but reckoned movements out of the south east are already weeks behind normal.
“In a normal season we’d haul between 10,000 and 15,000 sheep to the south west for different clients, with some stock going as far as Cornwall.”
These sheep would be a mixture of ewes going away to winter keep, store lambs going for finishing and ewe lambs and shearling ewes as replacements for south west flocks.
“Making the south east a high risk area could work for a week, but any longer than that and it would be a disaster. The potential is buyers would go elsewhere for stock and then farmers here would be left with stock they either couldn’t sell or which would be severely discounted,” added Mr Langrish who has already started to slaughter ewe lambs normally sold for breeding.
Meanwhile, the issue could also affect the largest market in the south east, Ashford. The market is more than 65 miles to the south east of the cluster of infected premises, but, due to its location in Kent it could still stay shut, should the high risk area include all counties bordering Surrey.
Thame market, meanwhile, less than 30 miles from Egham would be able to open as Oxfordshire shares no boundary with Surrey.
All in all, the logic for classifying all bordering counties as high risk is less than clear, particularly when the infection has so far been contained within Surrey and full animal movement tracings have revealed little untoward so far.