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Monday, 20 August, 2001, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Cattle back on sale
Orkney Auction Mart
Strict hygiene controls were enforced at the auction
The first live cattle auction since the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Britain has taken place in the Orkney Islands.

It comes exactly six months after the first case of the disease was confirmed at an abattoir in Essex.

The auction has been hailed as a sign that farms are getting back to business as the number of new daily cases declines.

We want a sustainable countryside economically, socially and environmentally. That is not achieved by production subsidies

Food minister Lord Whitty

About 500 animals from Orkney farms were sold at the auction, under strict conditions to prevent the possible transmission of foot-and-mouth.

But the outlook is still gloomy for many farmers, some of whom have been thrown into financial ruin by the outbreak.

And feelings have been stirred by comments made by new food minister Lord Whitty.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said farming in the UK was going to have to change dramatically, after the disease exacerbated long-standing problems.

"The Common Agricultural Policy... is due for review over the next few years," he said.

"The traditional form of production subsidies will over that period in my view go because of various different pressures, budgetary constraints within the EU, the World Trade Organisation pressures, enlargement of the EU.

Disease facts
Total: 1,960
New cases Sunday: 0
Slaughtered: 3,750,000
Awaiting slaughter: 20,000
Awaiting disposal: 9,000

He said the current method of subsidies had created over-production and over-grazing.

But he denied he was saying that market forces should be allowed to take over the countryside.

"We want a sustainable countryside economically, socially and environmentally. That is not achieved by production subsidies."

Brisk business

The Orkney market did brisk business from the moment it opened at 1000 BST.

A group of four Charolais steers from the outlying island of Westray - were snapped up in seconds for 614 by a buyer for Kepac, a meat supplier based in Buchan, Aberdeenshire.

Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers' Union Scotland
Jim Walker: 'Step in the right direction'

The Orkney Auction Mart Chairman, Steven Metcalf, said on Monday: "It was vital to get the auction marts open here because this is the time of year when we start to move large amounts of livestock out of the region.

"The auction mart will do more than 50% of its trading during the next three months."

Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers' Union Scotland, called the sale "a step in the right direction".

"But there's a long way to go," he told BBC Radio Scotland.


It was vital to get the auction marts open here because this is the time of year when we start to move large amounts of livestock out of the region

Steven Metcalf, Orkney Auction Mart Chairman

"Restrictions are draconian, and they will be even more so when we start on mainland sales."

Only markets meeting strict cleansing and disinfecting regulations will be licensed to hold sales.

And none of the customary close inspections of the cattle are to be allowed prior to sale.

Export hopes

Scotland has not had a confirmed case of foot-and-mouth since 30 May.

If it remains free of the disease for 90 days farmers will be able to apply to regain their export status.

Mr Walker said: "We need politicians in Edinburgh and London, as it's the UK Government who negotiate with Brussels, to get out there in September and make sure they get their arm behind the wheel to get export markets reopened.

Cattle markets are not due to resume in England and Wales until late autumn.

And sheep markets, blamed for spreading the disease, will not begin again until next year.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Richard Bilton reports from Orkney
"The key concern had been the price of the market"
NFU President Ben Gill
"There is a big job in rebuilding the industry"
Damien Green, Tory Environment Spokesman
"It seems an extremely crass piece of timing"
See also:

20 Aug 01 | UK
Six months of farm misery
20 Aug 01 | Scotland
A farmer's market day joy
20 Aug 01 | Scotland
An island returning to normal
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