Fears marts will be hit in aftermath
By Jeremy Hunt
AUCTIONEERS fear that Draconian measures affecting the sale and movement of livestock could be imposed on markets as a result of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, without thorough consultation with auction companies and farmers.
Many firms are already undertaking an overhaul of their practices, anticipating legislation that will cover future livestock movements. But there are concerns that not enough time will be devoted to the practicalities of change.
Richard Morris of Penrith Farmers and Kidds said that auctioneers were taking a hard look at the way animals were traded and what lessons could be learned from foot-and-mouth. He added that his company was undertaking a "root to the branch" evaluation of its livestock selling procedures.
"All auction marts need to address many issues that will avert the risks of this ever happening again. But the problems caused by the closure of local abattoirs, which has had an major impact on the distances stock travel, must also be taken into account.
"As a profession we must pursue the highest standards of animal welfare and hygiene, but we hope that any new legislation affecting the way auction marts operate follows full consultation to achieve workable and effective practices."
Many firms said they have a good idea of the measures the government was considering, but believed that an open debate should begin sooner rather than later.
Among reforms, it was expected that there would be a limit on the number of times sheep or lambs can appear in markets – although no one knows how this would be policed.
Individual electronic identification for every sheep in the UK might also be considered, although most farmers and auctioneers feel it would impose an almost unworkable system, because of the sheer size of the national flock of 18.5m breeding ewes.
David Brown, secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers Association which represents 183 sale centres, said a letter had already been posted to Jim Scudamore, the governments chief vet.
"We know that government plans to introduce legislation will not only affect the selling and transportation of stock, but will inevitably affect livestock producers.
"We have therefore asked Mr Scudamore if the LAA can be kept up to date with discussions regarding any proposed legislation and that we are allowed to present our own views.
"The last thing the industry needs is for new legislation to be introduced without due consultation between all parties," said Mr Brown.
The LAA said that the sale and movement of livestock through auction marts was "completely transparent".
"By that I mean that nothing can be hidden. The auction mart books in stock from the vendor and takes payment off the purchaser. Coupled with existing movement records the system provides an efficient method of traceability."
Peter Kingwill, chairman of the LAA, believed that livestock selling and transportation have worked well and that it would be unfair to impose legislation which, in effect, would not have a direct bearing on reducing the risk of foot-and-mouth. He urged the government to base future legislation relating to auction marts and livestock trading in a sensible and constructive way and one that is "proportional to the degree of risk involved". *
Auctioneers are bracing themselves for greater controls following the foot-and-mouth crisis. Sheep movements are most likely to be affected by legislation.
• Government will review.
• Thorough consultation.
• Sheep sales might be restricted.