An unexpected change to the rules governing TB-restricted ‘orange’ markets could prove hugely damaging to farmers under TB restriction, auctioneers have warned.
Since 2010, approved orange markets have enabled farmers under TB restriction in England to sell cattle which have tested clear, subject to strict licence conditions.
Cattle sold at orange markets can only be moved onto approved finishing units (AFUs) or straight to slaughter. They have proved hugely beneficial to farmers, ensuring farmers get value for their healthy cattle even when they are under TB restriction.
But last week, auctioneers started receiving calls from farmers cancelling their consignments to orange markets because they had been refused licences.
This was down to a change in the rules applying to herds which have recently come under TB restriction. Defra and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) now require these go through their first 60-day short interval test before granting a licence.
Auctioneers warned the change would threaten the viability of orange markets, resulting in lower prices for cattle from TB-restricted herds, while also creating animal welfare problems on farms.
Their frustration had been compounded by the fact APHA did not consult the industry on the change, which was not mentioned in the recent consultation on TB cattle controls.
Simon Alford, director of Kivells auctioneers, Exeter, said an orange market held at the site on Tuesday was about 40 per cent down on usual trade in terms of cattle presented.
As well as undermining the orange markets, which will have less to offer buyers, the rule change also creates huge problems for affected farmers who now need to hold onto their cattle for another two months, in some cases without suitable winter accommodation.
“The ramifications are alarming. It seems to be a sledgehammer to crack a nut,” Mr Alford said. “Those 40 per cent that weren’t presented were ready to be sold now, but now they will have to wait for another two months."
“Things are tough in farming, so this is a major problem.
"It is also a huge animal welfare issue as grass keeps expire towards the end of October. If there is no shed space what are farmers meant to do.”
He added: "The biggest disappointment is all this happened without any communication to auctioneers. The first we know was this time last week when we heard from people couldn’t get licences."
He believes Defra is concerned about the provision under the orange market licence rules for farmers to bring unsold cattle home, as long as they have isolated facilities to put them in.
But he said this option was rarely needed by farmers and could easily be removed if it enabled the orange market trade could continue as it was.
Mr Alford said: “Whatever happens needs to happen quickly as the alternative is unacceptable. It is a disaster.”
Livestock Auctioneers Association executive secretary Chris Dodds said orange markets had enabled cattle from TB-restricted herds to be sold for around market value, when previously they sold for 40-60 per cent of their value.
This move, by significantly restricting the number of cattle eligible for orange markets, could undermine all that and take things back to where they were fie years ago, he said.
He stressed farmers needed to sell store cattle now as demand was good and in many cases they would not have the facilities to house them into the winter.
He said the picture was further confused by the fact affected farmers are still allowed to sell cattle direct to AFUs, suggesting Defra and APHA had a particular problem with markets.
He stressed the conditions attached to orange markets, including not holding other sales on the same day and the disinfectant procedures, ensured they presented minimal risk of TB spread.
He said: “I find this unnecessary and unacceptable and I am cross they did not feel the need discuss it with us.
“I genuinely believe the decision has either been made in an attempt to stop markets altogether or it has been made by people who do not understand our industry at all.”
An APHA spokesman said: “Cattle from breakdown herds can continue to move to TB-restricted sales following a satisfactory veterinary risk assessment.