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Welfare time bomb alert.

Byline: By Jennifer Mackenzie

A north sheep buyer is warning that the new 48-hour stop-over rule is a welfare "time bomb" waiting to go off.

Northumberland-based Jimmy Curle, who buys prime sheep on a daily basis from all the North-East's auction marts, said: "The new legislation doesn't take into account animal welfare.

"We're very fortunate that we haven't had any rain, which would result in wet sheep. If they are wet and dirty the abattoir can't slaughter them. Most abattoirs have high rateable values on their premises and they can't afford to have massive lairages to keep animals over." He said the logistics of the system were difficult enough as it was but it would be a disaster if an abattoir broke down.

"We need some common sense into these rules - it's a welfare time bomb waiting to go off," he said.

The new Government legislation restricts the gathering of animals in livestock marts to a maximum of 48 hours - strictly stating that every animal be removed by the end of that time period.

Mr Curle was at yesterday's prime sheep sale at Ponteland mart which, along with Acklington and other marts in the region, is facing difficulties with the new Government legislation.

Because of the busy breeding sheep sale period, movement restrictions placed on holdings affected yesterday's prime sheep numbers which were down to only 250 when the Thursday sale would usually attract up to 700 head.

So to get over the difficulty during the main special sales period, Ponteland is holding its first dedicated slaughter market tomorrow starting at 9.30am and it is likely to run for at least six weeks.

Ponteland mart company secretary Bob Johnson said: "Every Thursday we hold a non-dedicated slaughter market and the 48 hour rule does not apply to us in the same way as it does at Acklington in that we can keep sheep for longer than 48 hours.

"However, because of the breeding sheep sales, we have got a lot of farmers who can't sell in our Thursday non-dedicated slaughter market because of movement restrictions.

"If the slaughter sheep were able to be licensed to a specific holding that would solve the problem but now we're having to increase our costs by holding a separate sale - and the money has got to come from somewhere."

At Acklinton's Thursday dedicated slaughter market - often upwards of 2,000 sheep and 70 cattle - has traditionally been kept over for the Monday morning kill, with the mart investing around pounds 42,000 on modern purpose-built lairage facilities solely for this purpose.

A change in the original interpretation of the restrictions now allows animals to be kept on the premises 48 hours after the first livestock arrives but few slaughterhouses have the lairage capacity to keep the animals from then over until Monday morning.

The 48-hour restriction could also affect markets held earlier in the week, warned Jimmy Curle, once the wet winter weather starts and abattoirs will not take wet and dirty sheep.

"So far we have got away with the new rule because it has been dry weather but once it rains it is not going to be workable.

"It's a great idea having traceability but we have got to make the system practical and workable."
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 19, 2003
Words:544
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