Animal Aid


Posted 21 May 2004

New markets report exposed disease catastrophe in waiting

The failure by livestock markets to observe basic 'biosecurity' measures - introduced in the wake of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak - has substantially increased the risk of another disease catastrophe.

This is the key finding of a major investigation by Animal Aid, the results of which are published in A Dirty Business: monitoring adherence to biosecurity regulations at livestock markets following the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. It is the group's fourth report on livestock sales since 1994.

The aim of the new survey was to determine whether the post-foot and mouth biosecurity measures were being observed, and whether those rules were equal to the task of ensuring that markets would not pave the way for another animal disease epidemic. Livestock sales were shown to have played a central role in the wide and rapid dissemination of the 2001 f&m outbreak, which led to the destruction of more than six million animals and cost taxpayers billions of pounds.

Animal Aid MarketWatch monitors visited 13 markets between June 2003 and March 2004. At each location, they saw the most basic biosecurity rule being disregarded. This requires that everyone disinfects his or her footwear on leaving the animal area. Workers and visitors alike failed to observe this requirement, even though disinfectant dips were provided and there were often reminder notices.

Even at Longtown market, in Cumbria, which the Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFRA) identified as the epicentre of the 2001 f&m outbreak, MarketWatchers witnessed the dipping rule being broken.

Failure to obey the edict was so commonplace that one undercover Animal Aid monitor reports having to conceal the fact that he was dipping his boots for fear that his diligence would expose him as an outsider.

The dipping-footwear rule is the one unambiguous edict remaining from a comprehensive package of biosecurity measures that were introduced by the government when markets began reopening in February 2002. In Spring 2003, DEFRA proposed tightening the rules - but the livestock industry rebelled, even though it had previously complained that the government's lack of vigilance and disease control measures were factors that produced the 2001 outbreak.

When the updated rules were implemented in August 2003, they were weaker rather than stronger than what preceded them.

MarketWatch monitors observed many diseased and injured animals at the sales. They saw animals with swellings, bleeding cuts and abscesses. Animals were also seen being hit, kicked, crushed by gates and poked with sticks. One monitor described a ewe collapsing and dying at market, after suffering seizures. When the sheep was removed on a trolley, several market visitors were given to loud laughter.

Said Animal Aid campaigns officer, Ajaye Curry:

Livestock markets were right at the centre of the foot and mouth outbreak. Yet our report shows clearly that lessons have not been learnt. When the government introduced some basic disease prevention measures for markets, the industry fought successfully for them to be watered down. Now we find that what rules do remain are being ignored. As a result, we are seriously at risk of a re-run of the 2001 catastrophe."

The markets monitored were at Ashford, Builth Wells, Carlisle, Chippenham, Frome, Hexham, Holsworthy, Longtown, Penrith, Salisbury, Talgarth, Taunton and Worcester.

Notes to Editors

  • Undercover film supporting A Dirty Business shows non-observance of the footwear-dipping rule at Builth Wells, Chippenham, Longtown, Penrith and Taunton markets. Posters reminding market visitors to dip their footwear are seen at Builth Wells, Longtown and Taunton.

  • The film also illustrates Animal Welfare problems at: Carlisle market - cattle hit with sticks; Chippenham - cattle hit with sticks; Holsworthy - cattle hit with sticks and forced over slippery surfaces; Salisbury - overcrowding, cattle hit and poked with sticks; Taunton - cattle hit and poked with sticks, tails twisted and kicked.

  • Read the full background on livestock markets.

  • For more information contact Ajaye Curry or Andrew Tyler on 01732 364546.

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