The National Sheep Association (NSA) has urged Defra to test the effectiveness of sheep movement reporting systems in England in response to concerns about the accuracy of data held on them.
NSA members have expressed concerns movement records are not up-to-date, prompting fears over the Government’s ability to trace animals in the event of a serious disease outbreak.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said progress had been made since the troubled introduction of the ARAMS electronic sheep movement database in England two years ago.
But he said: “We are concerned over the accuracy of the central information held. The whole purpose of the database is to ensure full traceability of sheep movements to allow prompt action in the event of an exotic disease outbreak, such as foot-and-mouth or bluetongue.”
With electronic movement databases now in place in all four nations, the UK ‘should be in a strong position’.
But the NSA is ‘worried the system is not as robust as it needs to be’, particularly in light of warnings from the Animal and Plant Health Agency about the serious threat currently posed to the UK by exotic diseases, notably bluetongue.
It has called for Defra to carry out a ‘dummy-run’ to test the ARAMS systems and relate movements back to the farm.
Stressing all established national databases need to be checked for accuracy, NSA has also requested the Government’s overall UK Animal Movement Licencing System is looked at to ensure cross-border movements are captured correctly.
ARAMS receives more than 70 per cent of movement notifications electronically, most from markets and abattoirs within 48 hours, according to Defra.
Previously, all data was manually inputted and could take upto 10-14 days to enter the system.
A Defra spokesman said work was continuing with the industry to assess the effectiveness of the system’s data.
The spokesman said: “ARAMS has already hugely improved the timeliness and quality of data we have on sheep movements, but just as we continually assess our disease response, we also review the quality and efficacy of the data we use to inform it.”
“We have robust disease surveillance procedures in place to carefully monitor international disease threats including Foot and Mouth and Bluetongue. As part of this work we monitor UK animal movements and undertake risk-based post-import testing of animals.
“In the event of an exotic disease outbreak, movement restrictions would be introduced as part of our tried and tested approach for slowing the spread and eradicating disease. Our electronic monitoring system
Defra has urged the industry to regularly update information on the system, which it maintained was dependent on the accuracy of data inputted into it.
But Mr Stocker said: “Given the catastrophic impact these diseases can have, bringing the threat of mass culls, trade disruption to our essential export markets and a reduction in the welfare and performance of our flocks, we must ensure the systems we have in place are accurate and will stand up to scrutiny.
“We cannot afford to wait until we are faced with an outbreak to find out if the sheep movement recording system is fit for purpose.”