Reform of sheep sales likely

24 March 2001

Reform of sheep sales likely

By Alistair Driver

STRICT new rules could be introduced to reduce the number of times sheep change hands before slaughter for human consumption.

A far-reaching review into the foot-and-mouth crisis will focus on the role of livestock markets in spreading the disease, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown has told MPs.

“We will be considering whether animals should be required to stay where they are for 21 days [after a sale] to see if disease emerges,” Mr Brown told the Agriculture Select Committee.

Similar restrictions have long been in place for pigs which have remained largely free of foot-and-mouth despite being more prone to disease.

Keith Baker, former president of the British Veterinary Association, said foot-and-mouth would not have spread so rapidly had the measure been in place for sheep.

Efforts to control the virus have been hampered by difficulty of tracing sheep through livestock markets. The disease spread from Northumberland to the rest of the country in days.

Chief Government vet Jim Scudamore has admitted that the main problem was out-of-the-ring transactions by livestock dealers which were not recorded by markets.

NFU deputy livestock chairman Ian Frood, chairman of Farm Assured British Beef and Lamb (FABBL), said the assurance scheme was likely to be tightened up after the outbreak exposed cracks.

The FABBL scheme requires sheep to be bought from farm registered under a recognised assurance scheme.

Alternatively, sheep can be classed as assured if they are kept on the farm for as little as 60 days.

It would be a “critical failure point if animals are sold and falsely described as Farm Assured,” notes the scheme handbook.

The UK has just introduced a scheme requiring farmers to tag or tattoo the holding of origin on each sheep.

But the Governments inquiry could make it easier to track down sheep and help stem multiple trading, said Mr Frood.

Sheep are not individually identified under the scheme which can make them virtually impossible to trace once they have left their original holding.

This is particularly true when multiple transactions are only recorded by individual farmers and dealers.

Mr Frood said he believed the Ministry of Agriculture may require better record keeping and stricter implementation of the batch tracing scheme.

But individual tracing is impossible without electronic tagging, which is very costly, he said.

Mac Johnston, from the Royal Veterinary College, Herts, said MAFF should introduce electronic tagging of individual sheep traded at markets.

He said it would be unrealistic to tag all sheep and also wants sheep bought at a market to remain on their new farm for 21 days.

But National Sheep Association chief executive John Thorley said the move would seriously limit the role of sheep traders who play a vital role in marketing sheep for farmers.

Herefordshire sheep exporter Kevin Feakins was singled out by MAFF as one of two dealers mainly responsible for spreading the virus.

He said: “Small farmers need dealers to transport sheep long distances to abattoirs.”

Foot-and-mouth – confirmed outbreaks

Foot-and-mouth – FWi coverage

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