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'GIVE US A CHANCE TO TRADE' - FARMERS

 MATTHEW ROBINSON

09:00 - 11 January 2003
 
  
 
The Government was yesterday given a wake-up call over the 20-day
standstill rule on livestock with a national protest by angry farmers.

Members of the NFU met at Department of the Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (Defra) offices across Britain to hand over letters to
Government officials demanding that the controversial disease precaution
be lifted.

Yesterday, at Defra's regional headquarters at Clyst St Mary, near
Exeter, around 20 farmers from across Devon presented Ben Bennett,
divisional vet for Devon, with a letter outlining their desire to see
the 20-day standstill rule abolished.

Similar protests took place at Defra offices in Truro, Taunton and
Gloucester - and outside the South West, at places as far afield as
Carlisle, Preston, Leeds, Stafford and Lincoln.

John Dawe, chairman of Devon NFU, said he was optimistic that the
message would get through to Secretary of State Margaret Beckett and
Defra.

"I think this message will definitely be taken up to London," he said.

Under the ruling, if any farmer purchases new livestock, then he cannot
move any of his other animals for 20 days.

The law came into force after the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001, but
has remained in place ever since as a Defra method of limiting the
spread of any animal disease that may come into the country.

However, farmers say it is a Draconian ruling to have in place when
there are no diseases in the UK - and have called on Whitehall to put
into place stricter biosecurity at airports and ports in the country.

They also want the livestock standstill removed completely.

"The vets understand our problem, because we deal with them on a
day-to-day basis, sitting in a London office it is perhaps more
difficult to understand," said Mr Dawe.

"We are convinced that we as farmers have done as much as we can to
improve biosecurity within the country - now it is the turn of the
Government to stop putting the pressure on us and tighten up security
over meat imports.

"Nowadays farmers have so much paperwork to fill in to do anything - it
sometimes feels like we have gone back to school because we have had to
learn so many new skills.

"I understand an announcement about the livestock standstill rules will
be made in early February and if we don't hear anything then, I am sure
there will be a move by the NFU to make themselves heard soon after."

Richard Haddock, South West livestock representative for the NFU, said:
"Today is about the 20-day standstill rule and it is quite clear that
the NFU's public statement is we are saying 'no' on two matters.

"The 20-day livestock rule is totally wrong and we want to see it
completely lifted. And we also say biosecurity measures at airports and
ports are not working."

Mr Haddock was referring to a pair of sniffer dogs, Samos and Hesky, who
are being trained to sniff out illegal meats at Heathrow Airport.

He said they were not well enough trained yet and were not doing their
job, and cited one airport in Canada as an example of the difference in
the stringency of import regulations.

"At that airport alone, there are 80 dogs - how can two in the UK be
expected to maintain biosecurity? This 20-day rule has cost us hundreds
of millions of pounds and our arms and legs are tied up. We want to be
able to go back to proper trading.

"Today's protest is a sign that the gloves have come off in this issue."

Mr Bennett, who received the letter with a promise to pass it on to
Defra, said he understood the farmers' anger at the 20-day rule. But he
said it was a viable method of preventing the spread of disease.

"We as a department are well aware of the problems the 20-day rule
causes farmers - we are not remote from it and I speak to John and
individual farmers regularly about it.

"However, the Government said we should have some form of movement
control and those have remained in place.

"We can't go back to how we were before 2001 and this sort of control is
a way to stop disease spreading."

He said that it would be impossible to get 100 per cent controls at
airports and ports on illegal meat imports - a comment which the farmers
reacted angrily to, claiming that it was the Government's insistence on
importing meats legally from elsewhere that put agriculture at risk.

However, Mr Bennett maintained that there would always be illegal
imports into the country, but admitted there was more that could be done
by the Government to tighten up controls at points of entry into the UK.

A Defra spokesman in London, responding to the 20-day strikes, said: "We
recognise the practical difficulties posed by the standstill for many
cattle and sheep farmers and have provided a number of exemptions,
notably for breeding animals.

"Both foot and mouth inquiries emphasised the role animal movement
controls can play in checking the spread of disease. The Government
accepted the advice in the Lessons Learned Inquiry that the 20-day
standstill should remain in place until a detailed risk assessment and
cost-benefit analysis could be carried out.

"Defra has commissioned the necessary studies from experts outside Defra
and they have consulted industry representatives as part of their
research.

"Emerging findings from these studies will feed into Ministerial
decisions hopefully by the end of January about the shape of the
controls to apply for the Spring movement season. There can be no return
to the pre-2001 arrangements: movement controls of some kind will be
needed for the long term."

mrobinson@westernmorningnews.co.uk
 



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LETTER GETS MESSAGE ACROSS

 
09:00 - 11 January 2003
 
 Farmers gathered at Clyst St Mary yesterday to present Devon's
divisional vet, Ben Bennett, with a letter outlining their concerns.

Mr Bennett accepted the letter, written by Devon NFU chairman John Dawe,
and said he would take it to Defra in London so that the concerns of
Westcountry farmers would be heard in Whitehall.

The letter said: "As I am sure you are aware the majority of livestock
producers in England and Wales continue to struggle to cope with the
difficulties that result from the current 20-day standstill.

"Many of my fellow livestock farmers feel that their businesses are
being required to bear an unfair share of the costs and associated
problems that result from biosecurity concerns, when all other
stakeholders - particularly Government - seem unwillingly to act upon
their responsibilities.

"Some of the changes that the industry has already had to agree to
include:

Rigid biosecurity controls at livestock markets, sales and shows.

Cleansing and disinfection of livestock vehicles rules.

General licence for livestock movements.

Reporting of cattle movements reduced from seven to three days.

All sheep movements reported to local authority.

National database of sheep movements.

New sheep tagging rules from February 1, 2003.

Ban on swill feeding.

"In working with others to implement these changes, the industry, led by
the NFU, has sought to bring to the livestock sector biosecurity
measures that are:

Proportionate to the risk.

Compatible with a diverse and dynamic livestock sector.

Easily understood and supported by producers.

Capable of being effectively enforced.

"The NFU believes that, taking account of these improvements and the
improvements that Ministers have said they will make on controls of
imports of meat and meat products, we can now adopt a more appropriate
set of livestock movement controls to include:

The measures already introduced as set out above; and

On farm bio-security practices which are adapted in consultation with
private veterinary surgeon to cover such issues as:

Farm biosecurity for visitors and vehicles - including multiple pick-ups
and drop-offs.

Procedures for dealing with the introduction of new livestock aimed at
identifying potential or existing animal health issues before stock are
mixed with resident livestock.

"The introduction of these measures would offer a proactive and
realistic approach to developing a long-term strategy for controlling
the spread of disease in livestock farming in England and Wales.

"We believe this approach is proportionate to the risks facing the
industry today and would eliminate the need for a whole farm standstill
of any length and formal rules on multiple pick-ups and drop-offs.

"The NFU believes that livestock farmers need to have confidence in
Government regulations, the Government needs to regulate on the basis of
trusting farmers to honour their responsibilities.

"The industry can no longer afford to be regulated on the basis of the
occasional 'rotten apple' who will bend or break regulations in a
cavalier manner in any event.

"The Government and the industry must be prepared to deal, in the
strongest possible terms, with any such individuals who put the
country's livestock sector at risk."
 



 
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MEASURES AIM TO PREVENT REPEAT OF 2001 FOOT AND MOUTH DISASTER

 
09:00 - 11 January 2003
 
  
 
The 20-day standstill rule on livestock has had a major impact on
Westcountry farmers' ability to trade as they would wish.

Under the ruling, brought in after foot and mouth to prevent the spread
of agricultural diseases among livestock, the farmers say they have lost
the ability to quickly move animals for slaughter or to different land
for welfare reasons.

If a farmer buys one animal and places it with the rest of his stock,
then he cannot move any of his livestock for 20 days.

The idea behind the thinking is that if the farmer buys an animal
carrying a disease, then the livestock movement restrictions will
prevent an epidemic of foot and mouth proportions.

Yesterday, John Dawe, chairman of the Devon NFU, said he understood the
thinking behind the rule but said it was inappropriate when there were
no diseases prevalent in the UK.

"We really consider the Government's 20-day rule to be unnecessary," he
said.

"I appreciate that it is worthwhile in a disease situation, but for now
it is just causing problems.

"The difficulty comes when you buy an animal and bring it to your farm,
because then all the rest of your livestock cannot be moved. That mean
if you buy a cow, you cannot sell calves at the market, if you buy a
ram, you cannot move lambs for slaughter.

"There are all sorts of various complications involved with filling out
forms and many farmers have great difficulty in understanding what forms
they need to fill out to do anything. Instant decisions are what's
required in agriculture - this rule prevents that."

It is not just the farmers it has had an effect on. Alan Venner,
chairman of Exeter Market Auctioneers, says the livestock markets have
been hit by the rule.

"This rule has got them in a straitjacket and the rule doesn't just
affect farmers, but us as well, because many of the farmers are
prevented from coming to the market," he said.

At the Truro Defra offices, farmers from Cornwall gathered to get across
their feelings on the rule. Cornwall was less affected than Devon during
FMD, but yet the county still has to endure standstill regulations.

 




 
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STANDSTILL FLAUNTED BY MINORITY OF PRODUCERS

 
09:00 - 11 January 2003
 
 The National Beef Association revealed recently that many farmers are
so frustrated with the 20-day standstill that they are prepared to break
the rules.

In December, the body said that non-compliance with the rule is so great
it would be impossible for the authorities in Britain to rely on animal
movement information to launch an immediate tracing programme and
identify quickly the likely path of the disease spread.

"This is a worrying and unsatisfactory situation, but the grave problems
it raises would be very quickly resolved if Defra agreed to introduce
anti-FMD movement regulations which all farms could fall in with, and
disease security was improved by focusing on alternative methods of
minimising its spread," said NBA chief executive Robert Forster.

"Around five per cent of cattle movements and up to 40 per cent of sheep
movements are conducted outside the regulations. But if the standstill
were shortened to six days, then farmers who cannot manage their
businesses and fall in with the current 20-day restraint would be able
to comply."