Forwarded by Mary Marshall, a statement from Peter Greenhill of Mitchells Auction, Cumbria, submitted to DEFRA as part of the evidence against the current 20 day standstill:

 

COMPANY POSITION REGARDING 20 DAY

MOVEMENT BAN

                        Mitchell`s Auction Company supports the NFU proposal to scrap entirely the whole farm 20 day movement ban. The country has been clear from Foot & Mouth disease for well over one full year. In that time there has not been one outbreak. Legislation such as the 20 day ban is therefore unnecessary and prejudicial to farming businesses especially those in isolated areas of primary livestock production such as The English Lake District. Since this ban was enforced farmers have tried hard to obey the rules but are rapidly losing patience with legislation which is so clearly  unfair and untenable.

                        The 20 day ban is seen as a preventative measure which may or may not be effective in the event of another outbreak of F&M disease. Its continued existence is tantamount to an admission that the government expects the disease to reappear and is unwilling to (or unable?) to do anything about it. If science proves otherwise (and how likely is that?) and a restriction in some form is the only option, we would support a 6 day restriction but only on the individual animals brought on to the holding. A whole-farm restriction cannot work unless all of the stock is isolated from neighbouring stock. In practice this is an unrealistic expectation as it would require huge tracts around the farm boundaries being used as isolation voids. It is our view that whole farm bans are unnecessary and frankly, unachievable in the longer term.

                        Animals on a 6 day restriction could, in most cases, be kept isolated from other stock on the holding thus permitting other animals to be sold off the holding without risk during the isolation period.

                        Farmers in The Lake District are mostly primary producers, breeding replacement  breeding stock or store animals often bought by others. Those farmers who fatten animals for slaughter need to sell small quantities of stock on a regular basis because of the lie of the land and type of farming practised  in the Upland areas. This, together with the long road journeys to abattoirs is what makes the Livestock Auction system so successful in this area. The 20 day ban has created severe hardships for farmers who frequently do not have the resources to hold stock for 20 days when other stock has been brought to the holding. This is especially important in the Autumn months when essential breeding stock has been bought in so tying up other home-bred store stock which needs to be sold off before all the winter keep has been eaten.

                        Farmers is this area survive on meagre incomes and the foregoing points are real issues. The financial strictures and the welfare issues created by the 20 day ban may force some farmers to flout the rules, even though it is against their nature to do so.

                        There have been several misunderstandings about livestock dealers. They have been held up as villains in the spread of F&M disease. It is unfair to tar all dealers with the same broad  brush. Prior to Foot & Mouth there were many honest and reputable dealers employed by abattoirs to travel to remote markets such as Cockermouth. One dealer may buy for several different abattoirs who were saved the expense of sending their own individual buyer. The dealer would buy to order and we have supplied animals to such dealers for transmission to abattoirs throughout the country and beyond. This remains a perfectly legal trade. The abattoirs bought on a weekly basis because they could be assured of quality, numbers and welfare. In these respects, dealers did a good job. This is evidenced by the regular orders they have to fulfil and they provided an essential link via the auction marts to the producers.

                        Many dealers bought stock for themselves and for other farmers. For example, lambs being sold through the auction may have the capacity for being grown bigger or fatter. The dealer could buy them for other farmers for their holdings: in other words, store lambs for further finishing. This trade occurs because the slaughter price on a lean animal may be much less than the store price that other farmers may be prepared to give. This is why the 20 day rule has caused so many problems to farmers who have been forced to sell in a “slaughter only” market because they have been tied up by a 20 day ban on their farms.

                        Dealers were also able to iron out fluctuations in trade which benefited  the farmers. If, for some reason, the abattoir demand for stock reduced through the week, dealers could buy the stock from farmers and hold it on their own holdings until such time as the demand from the abattoirs improved. Farmers were happy with this because they did not see the large swings in price which have been a feature of trading since the auction marts re-opened after the end of the Foot & Mouth disaster. The onus was on the dealer to take good care of the stock otherwise the abattoirs would refuse to buy them. This sort of trade has been well-known and fully accepted throughout the supply chain. This sort of dealer offers stability to a market and in this sense, they have been missed in the start-up after Foot & Mouth.

                        Another type of dealer is the man who works to commissioned orders, mostly for breeding and store stock. Local farmers who do not have the time or the ability to buy replacement stock will often commission a trusted dealer to find stock for him. The dealer will buy from auctions or direct from farms or he may use some of the stock on his own holding for buyers to examine. This is a worthwhile and legitimate service which has no adverse welfare issues but has been affected by the 20 day rule.

                        The final type of dealer is often self-employed, buying and selling stock by auction or from farms. In the past these men have had the ability to hawk stock around the countryside, often from auction to auction trying to make a profit. This trade in cattle has been limited in recent years due to the onset of cattle passports although it remained in operation for sheep. With the advent of individual identification for sheep it will become much more difficult to hawk stock in this way. These types of traders are unwelcome and their demise will be no great loss to the industry. Cockermouth auction refused to trade with these men: we have remained a farmers` market. All of our stock comes from the local farmer and as frequently, it is from the farm of origin.

                        Clearly identification of stock is important although we should not lose sight of the traditional methods of identification in the rush to create `state-of-the-art` systems which may fail in practice. Attention should be given to the auction marts` ability to recognise stock from local farms. This art can only be achieved by years of practice and a deep knowledge of the farm, the farmer and his stock. Evidence for this can be obtained from Longtown Auction Mart`s evidence to the Cumbria Foot & Mouth Inquiry when they demonstrated that within two hours, they could provide MAFF  with complete details of every animal sold in two auction held in the two weeks preceding the MAFF request. Not only that but the names of stock handlers and other staff were provided and notes where those staff worked or lived on other farms. It should also be noted that Longtown may handle up to 999,000 sheep in a year.

                        Other auction marts have similar abilities to trace stock quickly and effectively. Whilst tagging and boluses may be useful, there is no need to dispense with some good old-style knowledge of the local stock.

                        In respect of bio-security, inspections for FABL standards used to be carried out by mart auctioneers until the government withdrew this business to another central organisation. Auctioneers know both farmers and their holdings. They know the farmers whose standards will always remain excellent and they know others who will need assistance and advice. Veterinary inspections may be reduced if the standards on farms is known to be at a good level.

                        In conclusion, farmers trust auction marts and their professional staff. They turn to us for advice and will abide by it. They may be less willing to adhere to formal orders from what they see as remote organisations although if the auctioneer tells them to do it…..they will!

Peter Greenhill

CHAIRMAN