Royal Smithfield Club calls halt to livestock contests

The Royal Smithfield Club, linked for more than two hundred years with holding some of the top primestock and carcase competitions in the UK, has announced that it will no longer do so.

Royal Smithfield Club's livestock competitions have come to an end. Picture: Toby Williams

In a letter to its members, the club has indicated, following the expiry of a seven-year partnership with the East of England show, it has no immediate plans for commercial competitions but is exploring other unspecified initiatives.

In the second half of last century, legions of top Scottish commercial breeders and trainloads of supporters made the pilgrimage south and converged on London’s Earls Court every December.

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Little betwixt us and agricultural Armageddon

The aim of the exhibitors was to win at the Smithfield show, which was then reckoned to be the premier competition in the UK for fatstock. The aim of the spectators was not only to visit the major “Country comes to town” exhibition but also to take in some of the London lights.

This successful mould was broken in 2003 when the agricultural machinery manufacturers who had combined with the Royal Smithfield Club to support this major exhibition in the centre of London decided it was no longer viable to do so.

The machinery dealers reckoned potential purchasers of tractors and combines were more likely to pull out their cheque books after seeing the machinery in working mode down on the farm rather than under the artificial spotlights on a show podium in London.

Unable to bear the cost of putting on the livestock competition on its own within London, the Smithfield club took its competition initially out to Shepton Mallet and, since 2007, to Peterborough.

That experiment in the arable east of England has failed to attract either exhibitors or visitors and, in an amicable separation, the Smithfield club has now announced it will no longer be associated with the East of England show.

Geoff Burgess, the club’s Honorary Secretary. “It is clear that the East of England Agricultural Society now has the resources and expertise to run a successful primestock event; which frees the club to develop other initiatives.”

Just what the club envisages is far from clear but one Smithfield Club director who wished anonymity suggested that different Smithfield awards could be devolved to local shows where they could be accompanied by some of the vast array of silverware owned by the club.

The Royal Smithfield Club was formed in 1798 at the former London meat market with a wide remit on improving cattle, sheep and pigs coming to market. In the following two hundred-plus years, its main method of doing so was in holding competitions but now that has been closed down.

Vets warn against dropping defences

While politicians continue to argue over life post-Brexit, UK vets yesterday warned the country should not drop its defences against animal diseases entering this country and that the UK government should ensure resources for existing disease control and eradication programmes and surveillance systems would continue to be maintained.

Gudrun Ravetz, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said: “Disease is unpredictable, particularly new diseases and novel strains of diseases in our increasingly globalised world. As a country we need to be alert to the threat posed to our livestock, food chain and agricultural business by disease incursions.”

Adding strength to Ravetz’s call for a robust surveillance system, it comes almost 16 years to the day when the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease was first identified. This became the biggest and most costly animal disease outbreak this country had ever experienced.

The battle against disease importation continues to this day, with current precautions against Avian Influenza having had to be strengthened while Schmallenberg virus cases across the country continue to rise.

Meanwhile, a survey carried out by the BVA has shown that where there have been changes to post-mortem facilities since 2014, a third of vets affected thought their access to facilities had deteriorated and, where there have been laboratory closures, three-quarters of vets had seen carcase submission rates decline.

Disease control was identified by BVA members as one of their top three highest priorities in relation to Brexit.