MOUNTING pressure is being brought to bear on the Ministry of Agriculture to relax the five-week-old ban on store cattle sales in the Province.
Farmers throughout Ulster are claiming that they are suffering hardship as a direct result of the cancellation of sales as a foot and mouth precautionary measure.
Mr Edwin Conn, chief veterinary officer of the Ministry, reiterated last week that it was “much too early” to consider lifting restrictions. It was not, he said, the time to think about relaxing precautions. The time to do that was when the disease had been completely wiped out.
The ban has, however, imposed serious problems for both buyers and sellers of store cattle in Northern Ireland, and strong criticism has been levelled at the Ministry, from many quarters, on its decision not to ease restrictions.
A deputation from the Ulster Farmers’ Union will meet senior Ministry officials this week to discuss the situation and the problems and implications which have arisen in the trade as a result of the precautionary measures.
It is unlikely, however, that a definite date for a relaxation of restrictions will emerge from the discussions. The UFU Fatstock and Pigs Committee, while appreciating that the position of farmers is becoming more difficult as time goes on, is anxious that the safety precautions against the disease should not be jettisoned.
Mr Alastair MacLurg, secretary of the union’s Fatstock and Pigs Committee, told FarmWeek: “There is considerable hardship for both those who buy and sell stores. The committee appreciates this and has asked the Ministry to meet a deputation this week.
“But, at the same time, the most important consideration is to ensure that the disease is kept out of Northern Ireland. The effect on the store trade has been very serious indeed but we must ensure, first of all, that foot and mouth does not get in.”
It seems certain that it will be at least several weeks before the Ministry issues a directive on the sale of store cattle, as the possible risk resulting from the Christmas holiday traffic has yet to be eliminated.
Although several of the Province’s leading auction marts are providing livestock owners with an information service – designed to help them to overcome the marketing difficulties posed as a result of the restrictions – reports of difficulties in both selling and buying stores have been coming in to UFU headquarters.
When FarmWeek carried out a sample survey last week at the three Belfast livestock marts, the vast majority of producers who were interviewed claimed that there was a strong case for a relaxation in the restrictions.
“I have been greatly inconvenienced …,” “there’s greater hardship ahead …,” “the Ministry is going a bit too far …,” were some of the views put forward.
Several farmers strongly criticised the Ministry for what they described as “inconsistencies” in their foot and mouth policy, one declaring, “The Ministry’s attitude varies from the sublime to the ridiculous.”
Not all farmers, however, are angered at the Ministry’s “no” to the easing of restrictions. One Co Down farmer said, “The Ministry is fully justified in continuing to impose a ban on store sales. Foot-and-mouth must be kept out at all costs and, if there were no store sales, an outbreak, if it did occur, could be isolated much more quickly.”
Another farmer described the restrictions as “essential,” pointing out that the recent outbreak in Nottingham highlighted their necessity.