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LIVESTOCK - Markets in crisis
Posted 1 March 2003
Launching its campaign to Back British Markets, Farmers' Weekly (October 25) laments that a further 26 have closed since business recommenced after foot and mouth disease (FMD). Before the second world war, there were more than 800 markets in England and Wales. Now, there are just 149.
Livestock Auctioneers' Association secretary David Brown says that big markets are struggling because, 'they rely on a higher turnover of stock and there isn't the same number about as before'.
Only one third of the number of lambs and hoggets are being sold through markets compared with before foot-and-mouth. For cattle, numbers are lower still.
Animal Aid has long called for the closure of livestock markets. We have filmed physical brutality, overcrowding and sick and injured animals at sales around the country. Our evidence formed the basis of a detailed submission to the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), a government advisory body which is currently compiling a report on animal welfare at markets.
FMD highlighted the dramatic lack of regulations covering animal sales. MAFF themselves admitted that they had no idea how many sheep were in transit at the start of the outbreak. The FMD epidemic also showed that, when necessary, farmers could manage without markets.
What are the alternatives?
The publication of FAWC's final report has been repeatedly delayed due to FMD. It has now been put back further while the Council investigates alternative sales methods, such as electronic and video sales and holding centres. Animal Aid has made another detailed submission on the issue of alternatives:
Supermarkets often buy directly from farmers, who then send their animals straight to slaughter. While Animal Aid favours an entirely animal-free diet, this scenario at least avoids the additional hardships of a day at market.
To save buyers from having to collect from a number of small farms, farmers may bring their animals to a central holding centre. Our concern is that these could become little more than unregulated markets, with animals still being made to spend hours crammed in crowded pens with no water to drink.
Buyers can purchase animals over a screen after looking at key data. An auctioneer often lays on the facilities, giving farmers the same socialising opportunities as a market, without animals actually being present. The problem is that animals may still be bartered and sub-sequently transported across great distances.
Similar to electronic sales but buyers can see images of the animals on screen. Typically used for more 'upmarket' animals, e.g. breeding 'stock'.
In our new submission to FAWC, Animal Aid make it clear that, for animals, the problems don't end at markets. While they continue to be slaughtered for meat, we are calling for a maximum eight hour journey time (followed by a 48 hour rest period if they are to be transported again), maximum four hour holding times and proper monitoring and enforcement. These minimal improvements are the very least the animals deserve.
On a European level, Naturewatch has been at the forefront of a campaign to include markets in the forthcoming review of the Transport of Live Animals Directive. Some member states have no legislation covering markets and Naturewatch is calling for the compulsory introduction of basic measures. These include the provision of food and water and training in animal handling for all market personnel. A draft of the amended directive will be released in March for discussion.
Although farmers were only too quick to blame the government for the lack of regulations when foot-and-mouth was at its height, some are flagrantly abusing an important new disease-control measure. The '20 day standstill' is aimed at restricting the endless, profit-driven movements of animals between farms and markets. The idea is that it gives farmers and dealers a chance to monitor newly-purchased animals for signs of disease and, where detected, refrain from despatching them to other farms or markets in order to avoid infecting others.
Leading trade journal, Farmers' Weekly (December 6) states that, 'up to 5% of cattle movements and perhaps 40% of sheep transfers occur outside the current [20 day standstill] regulations'.
The government has announced that the 'stand still' period is to be reduced from 20 to six days - i.e. it has caved in to pressure from farmers.