Welfare Friendly Markets

17th April 2012

I recently had reason to ask Defra/AHVLA for a list of all premises approved under the Animal Gathering Order, unfortunately an up to date list was not to hand, so they would need to collate one and then send it on to me. It arrived last week, nearly four months after my initial request.

Every livestock market in England and Wales is individually approved by Defra/AHVLA and their Local Authority, under the Animal Gathering Order, before they are permitted to gather animals, either for sale by auction, or when acting as a Collection Centre for onward movement. In addition most markets are approved under an Assurance scheme and all offer training for their livestock drovers.

The modern market has become an efficient well run business that has both animal and human welfare at the forefront of its business plan. We have seen several new livestock markets built in the last few years, and several more are either in the process of being built, or are at the planning stage, all of these premises have focused on animal welfare and making sure that the facilities and environment built are the best that can be constructed, for all concerned.

The Animal gathering Order license (AGO) is in place to record all premises that are used to gather animals and to make sure that the operators of such premises are conducting their businesses in a suitable and appropriate manner, and that the premises and facilities are up to certain standards. The approval process requires an annual inspection, which looks at the quality of the facilities offered, ensures that the facilities are suitably welfare friendly, ensures that the premises can be fully cleansed and disinfected between gatherings, that there are adequate vehicle wash facilities where the correct disinfectants are being used, that the perimeter fence is suitable, that the operator has an appropriate and robust protocol in place should a notifiable disease be suspected, that a suitable protocol is in place should a sick or infirm animal arrive on the site, that there is a clearly identified isolation pen in the market, that all animal waste and waste water is correctly disposed of, that suitable and adequate animal watering and feeding facilities are provided, that the movement of all animals passing through the premises are reported accurately, efficiently and promptly at all times, and the list goes on and on.

As responsible market operators we are more than aware that the current UK movement reporting system for sheep is woefully inefficient and this is why we are determined to see a more accurate and timely reporting system put in place in the UK, one that will accept electronic movement notifications made directly from our market back office computer systems to a national database, on the day that the animals move through our sites.

The AGO license covers Markets, Collection Centres, Shows, Assembly Centres and any other place that a gathering of animals takes place. All such premises should have similar, or better, facilities to those that everyone has become accustomed to find at their local market.

I was astonished when the list finally arrived with me suggesting that only a few of the premises where animals are gathered for onward movement are actually approved (with the exception of markets and shows). This either means that many of the animal gatherings/collections that happen, up and down the country, are conducted “under the radar”, or that the operators are blissfully unaware that they need to be approved in the first place.

Under most Assurance schemes if an assured animal passes through a market, or Collection Centre, that is not Market/Collection Centre Assured, and is not approved under the Animal Gathering Order, it will lose its assurance status. Where does that leave the animals moving through non approved Collection Centres/Animal Gatherings?  

Possibly some of those that have recently suggested that livestock markets are a “risk” should look at the alternatives that they have suggested offer a “safer” environment, and ask themselves which are working to the required, and at times better, standard. Which are therefore a greater threat to disease security, the licensed and monitored system, or the unlicensed and non monitored system?