Future security

3rd June 2011

Last week we saw cull cows reach unprecedented levels, with one market reporting beef cows selling to £3,076.43 (994 kilos @ 309.5 p/kilo), £2,853.70 (1021 Kilos @ 279.5 p/kilo) and £2,258.88 (832 kilos @ 271.5 p/kilo). The dairy cull cow trade has also remained strong with many well meated cows reaching prices up to, and in excess of £1,000.00 per head. Prime bullocks and heifers also remained keenly sought after in auction marts last week, where competitive bidding slightly increased the national average price on the previous week, despite the suggestion by some deadweight procurement officers that trade would fall.

Although we saw prime lamb average market prices fall slightly last week they are still well above the same period last year, and with a strong carcass export market trade in place it is anticipated that this trend will continue.

With trade for all categories of livestock continuing strong surely we should be looking at how we can best protect ourselves should we fall prey to another outbreak of a notifiable disease. No-one wants, or can afford, to have the country brought to a complete standstill for 12 months, as we experienced in the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak. We all know the consequences too well, and with the export market playing such an important role within both the UK lamb trade and the UK beef trade we (industry) should be doing everything within our powers to protect it.

With the government cutbacks now starting to have an effect on the budgets for Local Authorities concerns are rising over the ability of AMLS to deliver accurate and timely information on sheep movements, especially if we were to have an outbreak of a notifiable disease. Local Authorities populate AMLS with the movement details reported to them on sheep AML1 movement forms. This procedure is completed manually, move by move, and they are not prepared, or able, to accept documentation electronically. Simplistically, if we have an outbreak of a notifiable disease ALL movements will be stopped, nationally, until AMLS has been completely, and accurately populated.

Can government give us (industry) the assurance that this is now possible and more importantly that it will be done quickly, efficiently and accurately?

What is the answer? I believe that the answer lies in the use of a National Database for sheep.

As you are well aware Richard Macdonald recently delivered, to Jim Paice MP, his long awaited Independent Farming Regulation Task Force report and within that report he made many recommendations, but one leading recommendation stated that there should be "immediate adoption of a single database, commercially and privately operated, to record sheep movements to ultimately replace and make redundant the Animal Movement Licensing System (AMLS)".

Industry figures would suggest that in excess of 80% of all sheep movements are through, or into, markets and abattoirs. Considering that most markets are now registered as CPRC's (Central Point Recording Centres) and are electronically enabled surely it would be to the farmers benefit, in a multitude of ways, if these movements were accurately and timely reported electronically on the day of movement? Markets and abattoirs are committed to helping farmers adapt to EU Regulation 21/2004 (sheep EID) and electronic reporting through a single central database is one tool that "needs to be in the box".

Such a database should not be seen as "a move too far" especially if it is owned, and operated by industry, with government and their agencies buying the information that they require (this could be restricted to statutory information, as currently declared on sheep AML1 forms). If such a database could be developed and run at no additional cost to industry, whilst delivering more timely and accurate reporting and recording, surely this would allow us to take some control of our own destiny, and more importantly it would shorten any standstill time enforced during a disease outbreak.

We have recently been notified of enforced electronic movement notifications for cattle and pigs, I would suggest that this means sheep are next. The opportunity of an industry owned and operated sheep database is real, and deliverable, but it needs the support, trust and understanding of industry.