A Dirty Business : The MarketWatchers' Reports
At all locations, our monitors observed a failure to adhere to the key edict relating to the disinfecting of footwear when leaving animal areas.
The monitors were also of the view - supported by experienced animal health officers working for local authorities, to whom we have spoken - that the post-August 2003 package of biosecurity measures are seriously deficient.
In succumbing to industry pressure and weakening the original rules, the government has increased the prospects of livestock markets once again being at the centre of a future animal disease outbreak. The government weakened in the face of pressure from farming interests, even though that industry is likely, as in the past, to blame any such future outbreak on lack of government action.
Our survey also strongly indicates that animal welfare is of no greater importance to market users than before foot and mouth. Animals were still taken to sales suffering from disease and injury. They continue to be beaten, deprived of water and confined in overcrowded pens.
'On a number of occasions whilst dipping my boots, I have seen individuals looking at me, followed by comment amongst themselves ending in an expression of humour. I found myself checking to see if anyone was around so as to not stand out when disinfecting my footwear.'
North East Area MarketWatcher
The Rules for Livestock Movements August 2003 clearly state; 'DON'T leave the animal area without cleansing or disinfecting your footwear' (emphasis in original). This is intended to prevent the spread of disease from animals on sale to those in other locations to which the market user might next be going. Yet at every market, monitors saw consistent breaking of this simple rule. Although footbaths for the disinfecting of footwear were provided - some with signs pointing out the need for dipping - they were not observed being used. A large proportion of market users were wearing footwear (e.g. trainers or sandals) that was not actually suitable for dipping.
'In the livestock unloading bay, I randomly picked out and watched three vehicles unload their animals. None of the drivers disinfected their footwear when they left to get back into their vehicles. None of the drivers was challenged by market staff.'
Salisbury, 2nd September 2003
'Drivers consistently failed to disinfect their footwear.'
Chippenham, 25th September 2003
'I saw no disinfection of footwear by drivers at the market.'
Taunton, 30th September 2003
'Throughout the summer, people not dipping their footwear has been a particular problem, with some wearing sandals and their children being reluctant to dip their trainers.'
'There was a disinfection tub with a request for all to disinfect footwear. I watched randomly a few dozen people walk through without disinfecting. Many of those had footwear not suitable for disinfection.'
Carlisle, 15th October 2003
Before the relaxation of the biosecurity measures, outer-garments, such as overalls, had to be worn by those working at, or attending, a livestock sale. The rules now simply state that the clothing must be easily cleansed and disinfected. They also require that no clothing contaminated with animal excreta can be worn into the market and if clothing does become soiled during the sale, it must be cleaned before the wearer leaves the market premises; or else the individual must change into clean clothing on leaving the animal area. But the question as to what clothing is suitable - jeans, for instance - is open to interpretation.
'A vendor wearing training shoes and jeans entered the auction ring - neither seemed suitable for disinfecting.'
Hexham, 14th October 2003
Cleansing of vehicles prior to leaving market
Prior to the relaxation of the biosecurity rules, all vehicles leaving market had to have their tyres, wheel arches and mud flaps properly cleansed and disinfected. However, many markets (particularly small, rural ones) claimed that they did not have the capacity to cope with this requirement and that it caused long queues of vehicles waiting to leave the premises.
The rules were consequently relaxed so that individuals can now cleanse and disinfect their vehicles after leaving the market, providing that they sign a declaration saying where the cleaning will take place and that, if they have unloaded animals, they will carry it out within 24 hours.
At the markets our monitors visited, cleansing and disinfection facilities were provided, but those we found making use of them often fell short of doing what the Order requires.
'When livestock vehicles left the loading area they would head to the market's exit and slow down to a fast crawl whilst a person either side sprayed the lorry's outer tyres and made what appeared to be a token attempt at spraying other parts of the chassis. Each disinfection procedure only took around 5 seconds.'
Frome, 27th August 2003
'One operative accepted a bag off a lady at the disinfection site, chatted for a minute and then walked back to his post without having sprayed the vehicle at all.'
Frome, 3rd September 2003
The biosecurity rules introduced when markets first reopened required that people should not touch one lot of animals and then another.
The updated rules say simply that 'handling animals must be kept to a minimum' and only those with a 'legitimate reason' can touch them (e.g. approved vendors and buyers). The 'licensees must take steps to control unnecessary handling of animals'. (3) However, no more is said to clarify how much handling is considered to be of a 'minimum'.
Many potential vendors physically touch and squeeze sheep in an attempt to gain an idea of the condition of the animals and their possible value. Our MarketWatchers observed this behaviour in most of the markets.
'With sheep there is a technique of condition scoring whereby the animal is physically touched/gripped on her back so giving a general indication of the condition, which will relate to her potential value. Most, if not all, of the sheep dealers will touch animals during a market day and will sometimes touch a sheep's mouth area to check the animal's teeth. This practice was used at this market.'
Hexham, 14th October 2003
'None of the people handling sheep seem to be wearing suitable clothing or footwear for disinfection and their hands alone are potential reservoirs of disease.'
Longtown, 16th October 2003
Click here for part 3 of the report, in which we describe the animal welfare issues raised by the MarketWatchers' reports.