Over the Gate - Lift close-down rule

By Jeff">Jeff Swift

LAST time I promised to tell you why I only gave a qualified approval to the reduction of the 20-day rule down to six days. Of course, one has to say it is a move in the right direction because having no movement of animals for six days must be easier to contend with than 20 days. But, as you may guess, the sting as ever is in the small print. This is the law and farmers will do their utmost to comply with it. My thoughts go further and I refuse to go so far as to say "this is just what is needed". In my view it is not. What is needed is a complete lifting of any closedown for, if you were to agree that six days is fine, then that lends credence to the policy - which I believe it does not have.

Nowhere else in the world has it been felt necessary to introduce this draconian policy that inflicts such hardship on to so many businesses.Great store has been set on the Follet and Anderson Inquiries, supporting the continuation of the 20-day rule, but the people who sat on these inquiries were, of course, appointed by the Government and many of them are members of the same society as DEFRA scientists.

Now I wouldn't dream of suggesting that it was within the realms of possibility that one could perhaps seek some support from the other. Well I wouldn't would I? Add to all this the fact that it must be almost 17 months since the UK was declared clear of foot-and-mouth disease and you may see why I do not accept that the 20-day rule was the route to go down. In fact I would not be prepared to adopt a route simply on the say so of DEFRA's top scientists and vets. I have not forgotten they were the ones advising on the control of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Now for the double-tagging of sheep. This is one of a "package of controls on the movement of livestock". Sheep farmers have been informed that, as from February 1 we must now ear tag all new born lambs and kids. The tags must contain an "origin mark" and a unique individual identification number (wait for it) containing 14 digits. If a lamb dies its number must be recorded so that DEFRA and its pals in Brussels can keep an exact check on the number of sheep there are.

The only change I have noted, in spite of massive opposition to this academic policy, is a later date of July onwards if this is correct. I understand that there are those who suspect that the reason for introducing it is that the officials in Brussels, and in Page Street, know perfectly well the impossibility of complying with it.

But you know me - I'm saying nowt.

It is felt by many people that officials want to see sheep numbers in Britain drastically cut in order to reduce money paid out in subsidies. Although (again I understand it is said by some) killing more than eight million healthy sheep during the foot-and-mouth crisis may have been looked on as a good start, sheep that were left just kept on breeding. So is this new requirement the next step? Could thousands more sheep farmers be forced out of business?

I hope not.I also almost forgot to tell you that any farmer caught by the new ear tag inspectorate not having recorded the number of every animal that dies will be guilty of a criminal offence and liable to a fine of up to £5,000 or imprisonment. So that's' all right then?

Why, oh why, can officials and bureaucrats not understand that it is traceability of animals and not individual identification that matters. I mean by this "farm of origin". Oh well, there is still three sorts of folk.

Dialect word: Fother-gang a small passage in front of cattle stalls to enable you to feed animals from the front.

Thought for the day: Laws, like clothes, should be made to fit the people they are meant to serve

.11:13 Friday 7th February 2003