The government may consult shortly on changes to the cattle passport rules, which could help farmers who submit a late application.

Thousands of farmers have fallen foul of the late passport rules, since they were tightened in Nov 2003.

The British Cattle Movement Service said that in total, 13,800 holdings have had at least one passport application refused and a total of 44,207 passports have been rejected because they arrived after the 27-day deadline.

Of these, only 10,376 were issued on appeal.

Although the rest of the animals were issued with a Notice of Registration document and registered on the database, they were not given a full passport. BCMS estimates that 22,195 of these remain alive on farms.

But a DEFRA spokesman told Farmers Weekly that the department was reviewing the regulations and he said “there will probably be a consultation in the next few months”.

The spokesman confirmed that it was possible that one of the ideas included in the consultation is that farmers who miss the deadline pay a penalty equal to the cost of a veterinary inspection certificate and a DNA test.

“There are a lot of complexities around this,” added the spokesman. “The DNA is perhaps something worth looking at, but there are lots of other ideas.”

Richard Haddock, NFU livestock board chairman, said the union believed something needed to be done with the rules because farmers were being penalised for making genuine errors.

“Providing that the dam and sire are both alive and the vet can prove it, then even if you have to pay a small sum then the animal should be registered.”

But Mr Haddock added that DEFRA’s lawyers were likely to be concerned about agreeing to a change in the rules if it applied retrospectively.

This was because it could leave the department open to claims from farmers that had killed any animals without a full passport.