How do marts reopen under new protocols – and what can they do?

Under a new Government announcement, marts will be able to reopen to provide “a very limited range of essential services” – but must meet strict conditions to do so.

Making the announcement this morning, Tuesday, March 31, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed said:

“My department is to issue guidance to marts on a very limited range of essential services that comply with Government guidelines and do not require people to assemble.

“These include measures to facilitate calf sales and the weighing of livestock, and online or brokerage services, and are subject to the approval of standard operating procedures by my department.”

Conditions

In notes about the mart guidance, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine stressed that normal mart auction activity cannot resume until further notice.

However, mart managers may consider some services to be essential and to comply with the Government announcement on Saturday, March 28.

Within that overall framework, and assuming that employers are in a position to fully respect Health Service Executive (HSE) guidelines in relation to physical distancing and other measures, it may be possible for mart owners to use their systems and facilities to put in place alternative trade facilitation mechanisms that would support the orderly sale of animals necessary to support the essential business of farming.

This includes where the movement of animals is essential and in particular to maintain the food supply chain and protect the health and welfare of animals.

In this context, two types of activities seem possible, provided they are essential and minimise the potential for contact between people:
  • For calves, a service whereby a farmer can deliver calves to the mart, by appointment, so that orders for purchase can be matched and facilitated via the mart; and
  • For older livestock, a weighing service for lots of cattle/sheep, by appointment, with the mart facilitating the transaction between a buyer and a seller.

Other activities, including online and other uses of new technology can of course also be considered, according to the department.

The authority recognised the importance of marts to the farming sector, noting that marts play a central role in the orderly movement, traceability and sale of animals that is essential in securing food supplies, whilst ensuring farmers receive a fair market price for their animals.

‘Necessary movement and trade’

It is hoped that the measures, in a tightly controlled manner in full compliance with HSE guidelines in relation to hygiene and social distancing, will allow marts to help facilitate the necessary movement and trade in animals in an orderly alternative manner.

Marts that wish to avail of the new guidelines are asked to submit a detailed written standard operating procedure (SOP) to the SVI in their local Regional Veterinary Office.

The SOP should set out how to propose to operate, and in particular the measures that will be put in place, which should ensure:
  • Only the minimum number of staff necessary for the safe running of operations are present at any one time in the marts – ordinarily there seems little reason that this needs to involve more than three or four people;
  • Only the minimum number of clients are present in the mart premises at any one time. This will likely involve: phone contact; individual appointment times being allocated to sellers to drop off cattle and individual appointment times being allocated to individual buyers to view/collect cattle; and the seller and buyer attending on their own without any other persons;
  • Physical distancing measures in compliance with HSE guidelines will be ensured;
  • Appropriate hygiene measures to minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmission will be in place.

Until marts have written confirmation from the SVI that their proposals are satisfactory they should not resume any activities in the mart premises, the department stressed.

The measures will be kept under review and further guidance will issue as necessary.

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