The over-zealous approach by EU auditors to farm inspections is one of the biggest causes of stress among farmers, according to Scottish farming stalwart Brian Pack.
He says the pressure put on farmers to comply with compliance regulations is “inhuman and a breach of human rights”.
Mr Pack is carrying out an investigation on red tape affecting farmers on behalf of the Scottish government.
“The stress created by this process – or even more the threat of it – cannot be overstated and I’m almost convinced is at the root of farmers’ complaints about red tape,” he says. “There’s no doubt that the Eurocrats want to create a fear culture as they believe this is the route to better compliance.
“Inspections are a key area of reform. Sensible rules for the implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy must be implemented as soon as the ink is dry on the agreement between EU farm ministers and the European Parliament.”
He accepts that for Scottish farmers to receive more than £500m of public money, farm inspections are necessary.
But he argues that under pressure from EU auditors, the whole process has become totally unreasonable and Scottish government officials, he claims, are powerless to slow the march of more onerous testing.
Mr Pack wants to see a stop to the present system of unannounced “spot checks”, which can sometimes last more than two days – even when farmers are busy lambing or calving.
“The possibility of an inspector turning up at your door to carry out a full check on land eligibility, livestock traceability and various other farm records, including NVZ [Nitrate Vulnerable Zone] if you are in a designated area, is something nightmares are based on and must be a breach of human rights,” he contends.
The Scottish government has already accepted Mr Pack’s recommendation that unannounced inspections should apply only where there is evidence that the practices are being abused. Otherwise, two weeks’ notice should be given.
The recommendation has been passed to UK environment secretary Owen Paterson, and is in line with a recommendation made by former NFU chief executive Richard MacDonald, who carried out a similar red tape review in England.
Mr Pack adds: “In other walks of life, swoops on businesses are accepted only when some form of fraud is suspected and usually a search warrant has been issued – not to check that a livestock record is accurate and up-to-date.”