I am surprised and disappointed to read the article by an ‘unknown contributor’ in your July issue under the heading: ‘Europe worst hit from foot and mouth’ but more to the point to the last but one paragraph referring to trade organisations.

Recently MAFF imposed an overnight ban on the issuing of export health certificates to China because it was felt that we could no longer justify the requirements imposed on them by Chinese Sanitary Authorities.

This seriously affected the exports of some of our members and through SHALTA representations to the top level of both MAFF and the British Commercial Section of the Embassy in Beijing we were able to have the MAFF ban lifted. Many members were relieved as they had contracts on the seas and more waiting for shipment.

Our information throughout the trade is that not only Europe was hit badly by the outbreak of foot and mouth but that it affected many overseas countries who had come to rely on UK raw material only to be cut off overnight, leaving a substantial gap in their production.

The initial efforts that were made by some producers to draft suitable health certificates were ineffective as they were approaching the wrong sources who could not possibly put matters right.

There was no way that MAFF could help them because frankly they did not know what to do themselves which they subsequently admitted. In the TV documentary ‘Outbreak’ on Channel Four on July 3 Professor David King confirmed that MAFF lost their way over the whole FMD crisis and did not know which way to proceed further.

They were not only in a state of confusion but they were without leadership. It was in this respect that we and others were able to help them and in the end they did come for help! Perhaps too late for some but at least they came and we were able to assist although we offered assistance and possible guidance right from the beginning.

From the very beginning Shalta became involved and for the first four weeks the offices were open from 0700 until 2200 seven days a week in order not only for members to gain assistance but also for MAFF officers to discuss ways and means to get over or around some of the problems that were arising.

Until last week the offices remained open every day including Saturdays and Sundays but reverted to normal office hours. On a daily basis MAFF were receiving cancellations from overseas countries of the sanitary agreements that existed between them and the receiving countries. As a result, whatever suggestions the UK producers submitted, the hands of MAFF were tied.

Furthermore, MAFF were not prepared to talk anymore with individuals as each had their own slant on the ways in which they required the new certificates and the way they were obtained.

It was agreed by MAFF that they should have dialogue with the Shalta office and in this way we were able to resolve most of the problems. Perhaps not to the exact liking of all members but at least we were able to get things moving.

The Welfare scheme was another example in which if the IBEA had their way then the entire quantity would have been incinerated and would have avoided the inconvenience of the paperwork. The cost to the taxpayer was greater and in turn our members would have been punished by the lack of raw materials.

Simply ask yourself how were the abattoirs/markets spared the desired veterinary requirement that all sheep/lambskins should be placed in a bath of 4% soda ash and then put back into a clean water solution and drained for 24 hours before they were allowed to leave the abattoir.

Not only were most abattoirs not in a position to do this due to lack of space but, furthermore, to handle and store skins in such a condition would have proved to have been impossible. Shalta resolved the method by which we could take the sheepskins from the abattoirs and this seems to be working satisfactorily, as it was with the hides. Suffice it not to say what damage it would have caused to the skins.

The most recent happenings we have had have been with the final result of obtaining an agreement both with the Turkish Authorities and our own [now] DEFRA for a suitable health certificate to be agreed between the two countries. Together with the help of some of our members we as Shalta were finally able to produce a document that was suited to both parties in an attempt to get the trade moving again, which was the highest priority. It might not be an ideal document but it is working.

Your correspondent seems to forget that it was the trade organisations through their appeals and lobbying to government ministries that allowed the BSE hides to be retained rather than disposed of, thereby retaining a merchandise with which our members can trade. Your corrspondent seems to have a short memory to suit his convenience.

It is totally wrong to say that the trade organisation did nothing to help their members in the recent crisis. We cannot speak for other organisations but we do know that those members who were or might be affected were in regular contact with the office and played their parts in bringing about solutions.

I would strongly suggest that in future he avoids making such remarks that appear to apply simply to him personally as we have had many, and I mean many, kind comments of thanks for the help and assistance that the Shalta have given to them over the past quite horrific weeks and I am sure the other organisations would have received the same.

We are always open to receive criticism and in this way the association can improve but it would have served a much better purpose had your correspondent lifted the telephone and spoken to the association and in this way he could have expressed his misgivings but would have been made aware of the facts. Instead he chose to generalise in his article on a subject to which he seems to be the only party.

I cannot, however, avoid making comment against the publisher and the editorial staff and feel that an apology is necessary. I feel that the article was quite wrong and in fact was not an article on the market situation in the UK and Ireland but a summary of the correspondent’s particular problems.

There were many other countries who were badly hit as a result of the outbreak of foot and mouth. Countries in the Far East, India, Pakistan, to name but a few, and a more informative approach should have been taken by the editor to substantiate from others in the trade the value of the content of the article in question before publishing.

Even further is the point that it should not have been allowed for personal comments of the correspondent to be incorporated in what should have been a market information report, not a personal declaration of ignorance of the situation by the correspondent. A call to the offices of the trade organisatons would have given you the correct position and avoided your giving publicity of the wrong sort.

Tony Cox

Secretary general SHALTA

* Editor’s note

I apologise unreservedly to Shalta who, although not named, seem to be the main target of the original comment. I am in regular contact with Tony Cox and am well aware of the huge amount of work he has been involved in relating to both the BSE and FMD crises. The BLC have similarly been inundated with calls on their time.