The Livestock Auctioneers' Association Limited (LAA)

Time for industry to act

4th November 2011

We have been told by the Good and the Great that our current manual sheep movement recording system is flawed, indeed some have even suggested that it is not fit for purpose; I would agree and say that it certainly does not do what it says on the tin. The reality is that movement data submitted by sheep farmers, using the current paper AML1 form, is taking too long to be uploaded onto AMLS (Animal Movements Licensing System). This work is completed by Local Authorities using a manual and therefore labour intensive method. There has even been suggestions made that some local authorities have stopped uploading the AML1 data at all.

The real threat to our industry would be if we had another outbreak of Foot and Mouth. Where would we be if Defra and Animal Health VLA could not trace all sheep movements within a realistic time scale? We would certainly loose our export markets until all tracings were complete, AMLS was up to date and we could prove that the country was free from circulating disease. As we all know the export trade has become the backbone of our sheep trade and any delay in re-opening exports would be critical to stabilising prices.

The Macdonald report, recently presented to Jim Paice MP, clearly identified the need for a computerised central database for sheep, that could facilitate multi species, to replace the current manual movement recording system, indeed it went further to recommend that such a database should be owned and governed by industry, or a similar independent commercial business. This to me suggests that Defra has no wish, or intention, to invest in the development of such a database, but that they do appreciate the need for a more appropriate recording system to be put in place.

It has been suggested that Defra will be prepared to pay the database for the statutory movement information that they require (the information currently available to them through the sheep AML1 movement form). It is imperative that this charge covers the cost of running the movement data reporting part of the database. This would mean that anyone using the database, to simply notify movement data, would be able to do so at no additional cost to that incurred by using the current AML1 movement form (free of charge).

Within the next few weeks Defra will issue a PQQ (Pre Qualitative Questionnaire) asking companies/people interested in delivering such a database to identify themselves. Once the PQQ process is complete suitable companies/people will be asked to tender to deliver a database. My concern is that Defra have suggested that they will decide who progresses past the PQQ stage, and then who will be most suitably placed to tender.

Surely if Defra are not prepared to financially invest in the building of such a database that they should not solely decide who is awarded the contract to deliver the service. If industry is expected to pay then industry should choose.

We need to get ourselves into a position where we take control to ensure that charges made to Defra, and their agencies, cover the costs associated to movement data reporting. We have an opportunity to take control of our own destiny, in relation as to how a database should work, who can do what with the data, what additional services it can offer our industry, and ultimately how much it will cost to run, but industry needs to act now before that decision is made for us and we have to accept what is put in front of us.