Questions raised over TB risk-based trading scheme

AUCTIONEERS have warned that Defra’s voluntary TB risk-based trading scheme will be difficult to operate until a comprehensive centralised cattle database becomes available.

Chelford market, in Cheshire, became one of the first markets to deploy the initiative during a sale of native breeds on Saturday.

Prior to the sale, vendors were asked to voluntarily provide information to inform buyers on three aspects of their TB status:

  • Date of last pre-movement test.
  • Date of the last routine herd test.
  • The date on which herds that have had a TB breakdown were last declared Officially TB Free (OTF).  

The information was uploaded by market staff and presented during the sale on a second screen in the ring.

Gwyn Williams, a Partner at the Chelford auctioneers, Frank Marshall, said around 60 per cent of vendors provided the information asked of them.

He said: “It is start and it is important that it is done but, to be honest, there are major issues for us in terms of uploading the information from various different sources. Also we can’t compel farmers to give the information to us as it is a voluntary schemes.”

He said the market would continue to offer the service for breeding stock sales but fears manually uploading the data takes a long time and will put a big strain on staff. While the animals were pre-entered and catalogued in advance for Saturday’s, there not be time to upload the information on many standards when cattle arrive only minutes in advance.

He said the initiative would only be truly workable, in terms of being manageable and ensuring the relevant information is presented, when the sort of database in place in other EU countries is available in the UK.  

“The UK is years behind most countries in Europe with the database. If you go to Ireland or Spain you scan the passport and it links into the database with all the information you need on the health status of the animal. We have been asking for it for years.”

Mr Williams said a handful of markets were starting to implement the initiative and others would follow as they put the systems in place. Livestock Auctioneer Association (LAA) members are installing new standard software to ensure the way the information is presented is consistent in markets that take part in the scheme.

The voluntary initiatives stems from a recommendation of the industry-led Risk-Based Trading Group, which called the introduction of a ‘comprehensive, accessible database as the ideal solution to support a successful risk-based trading scheme’.

Database

However, it acknowledged that the development of such a database is ‘not a quick or simple task’ and therefore recommended a phased introduction of risk-based trading while Defra and the industry look into the feasibility of a database.

LAA executive secretary Chris Dodds said: “These are early days but we need to look towards establishing a national database that can be easily accessed and provide a comprehensive risk assessment of the bTB status of all animals.”

Ian McGrath, a farmer from Knutsford, in Cheshire with a long personal history of TB in his herd and a member of the Defra-industry TB Eradication Advisory Group (TBEAG), attended the sale. He said, with the scheme being voluntary, the onus will be on buyers to demand the relevant information.

He said: “This is the first stepping stone towards farmers taking more interest in where they buy their  cattle from and starting to ask more questions. I see it that those farmers who offer the information will see a benefit. It will be for purchasers then to start questioning the vendors who don’t offer the information.”

He likened the initiative to the time when dairy farmers were asked to provide information mastitis cell counts. Buyers soon started questioning the motives of those who chose not to provide the data, he said.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We know that famers want to control the TB risk on their farm and risk based trading will help them do that. An industry group is also looking at how existing databases could be used to help farmers assess and manage the TB risk associated with the animals they want to buy.” 

Farming Minister George Eustice said risk-based trading was a ‘step forward in empowering farmers to stop the disease spreading to their farm’.

“It will also benefit farmers in high risk areas that have managed to keep TB off their farm by helping them get the best price for their cattle,” he said.

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