Marts seek return to pre-closure rules and restrictions on trade

As many marts continue to grapple with implementing the new Covid-19 trade rules, attempts are being made to seek a return to the original restrictions that were in place prior to the nationwide closedown.

In a bid to explore this possibility, the Mart Managers of Ireland (MMI) has reached out to the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS) and Associated Livestock Marts (ALM) to gauge support for such a move.

Last week, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine issued guidance on the re-opening of the country’s marts for a limited range of services in compliance with the Health Service Executive’s (HSE’s) Covid-19 guidelines.

The move followed clarity from Government that farming is classified as an ‘essential service’ to the state, meaning that food production activities are permitted to continue operating throughout the public health emergency.

The limited measures in place at marts are mostly aimed at facilitating calf sales, weighing livestock, facilitating online services and facilitating the brokerage of services – all subject to the approval of standard operating procedures by the department.

However, the loss of the public auction system is proving acutely difficult for some operators; with some deciding not to reopen as a result of the latest changes.

In MMI’s correspondence to ICOS and ALM, chairperson Eimear McGuinness said the new measures are “unworkable”.

The correspondence reads: “As I am sure you are aware, many of the marts across the country have tried to re-open this week under the new rules.

While we are glad that we have been able to trade in some limited way, after speaking to many marts where sales have taken place, including my own, these terms and conditions are unworkable.

“I think that we are all in agreement that livestock trading still needs to continue in some capacity.

“I also think we can agree that, for any sales to take place, the mart should only be open to an agreed number of purchasers to allow for social distancing guidelines with strictly no sellers on site.

“The situation at the minute where only one purchaser is allowed entry to look at stock and leave bids is unworkable for any mart.

“We need to be able to auction the animals.”

United SOP

The MMI chairperson went on to suggest that the three representative bodies should “show a united front on this issue” by drawing up a standard operating procedure (SOP) – that is “standard and workable” for all marts nationwide.

She suggested that together, the three bodies should present the united SOP to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, this week.

The rules which a lot of marts had operated under prior to closure were very strict and I believe that a return to these measures would be welcomed by marts and for trade to be permitted on this basis.

“I feel at this stage unless we show a united front on this matter, we will not get any changes. I have been asked by a mart which is not part of our organisation to make this step.

“I look forward to hearing back from you with your thoughts and if we can find common ground, I suggest we draw up an SOP for every mart as a matter of urgency,” the correspondence concluded.