Although the nationwide movement ban on animals susceptible to FMD still remains in place, chief vet Debby Reynolds said that farmers outside the protection and surveillance zones in Surrey would be able to send animals direct from farm to abattoir from midnight last night.
The news was last night welcomed by farmers, auctioneers and abattoirs, with the latter busy completing all the necessary paperwork so that they could be up and running today.
A spokesman for Whitley Bay Meat Supply Company said yesterday: “It is wonderful news. We’re busy with the vet at the moment filling in all the relevant forms so that we can be operating first thing in the morning.
“We’ve had three days of no production, so we’re delighted that we’ll finally be able to get back to work.”
County Durham farmer and NFU livestock delegate for the county David Maughan said: “It is excellent news. We’ve been waiting for this announcement for the last three days and it will start to release the pressure on livestock farmers.
“However there is still a long way to go and farmers must also remain vigilant. We must now hope that the prices hold up at the levels they were before this FMD outbreak.”
Hexham auctioneer Robert Whitelock said: “It is absolutely wonderful news that some stock can finally be moved. This will enable farmers to get prime animals to the abattoir and in turn get British meat back on to the shelves.”
Mr Whitelock said that the auction marts would be on hand from today to help farmers place their animals into abattoirs.
Dr Reynolds said farmers would be able to apply for a licence to allow them to transport live animals direct from farms to slaughterhouses but other movements, such as sending animals to market, would still be banned.
“The ban on the movement on foot-and- mouth-susceptible animals remains in place across Great Britain,” she said.
“However, the decision has been made to permit the movement of live animals direct to slaughter and the collection of dead animals from midnight tonight. These movements will be made under general licence and will only apply outside the protection and surveillance zones outside Surrey.”
She said the movement and collection of animals would only be permitted in accordance with strict licensing conditions, including biosecurity measures on farms, in transport and in abattoirs. Multiple pick-ups will not be allowed.
Only abattoirs which meet specific biosecurity conditions will be allowed to accept live animals for slaughter, she said.
“We continue to urge all farmers and all others involved to take the highest level of biosecurity measures and to follow the conditions of licence in every respect.”
However, farming leaders are worried that some in the red meat chain may try to exploit the lack of competition in the market place and take advantage of farmers in this desperate time.
During the last outbreak, farmers were paid a lot less for their animals when the only option they had was to send them direct to slaughter, and beef and sheep farmers do not want to see the scenario repeated.
Sheep farmers in particular have bitter memories of the price collapses in autumn 2001 when a similar situation was in place. Accusations of excess profit taking were leveled at the red meat chain then and these were endorsed when the price nearly doubled within two weeks of livestock markets coming back on stream.
National Sheep Association chief executive Peter Morris said: “The last thing the UK sheep industry needs when movements return is to see prices crumble. Consumption figures remain good and so this need not be the case. The NSA calls on all abattoirs, processors and retailers to do the decent thing and not kick producers in the wallet when they are already down.”
National Beef Association director Kim Haywood said: “Feeders are only to well aware of the immediate 15p-25p per dwkg slump in finished cattle prices that followed the resumption of slaughter activities during the 2001 outbreak and would regard any price penalty as a signal that supermarkets and other beef buyers are to ready to exploit their current helplessness.
“Beef stocks at both retail and processing level have run down as a result of slaughter suspension and the current export ban should not impact on prices either because less than 3% of prime beef production was sold overseas.”