THE ARREST of a Lancs farmer following investigations into the alleged improper use of cattle passports has raised questions over the existence of a nationwide black market in cattle identification documents.

The farmer concerned, who operates an extensive livestock dealing business, was arrested following a major police swoop on his farm.

He was arrested following joint investigations by the police, Trading Standards officers, DEFRA and the Rural Payments Agency but was later released on bail.

Trading standards officers in Lancs say the arrest followed two months of investigations into the farmer’s cattle business which culminated in sufficient evidence to be presented to the police.

“We‘d been monitoring this business for some time and were having tip-offs from other farmers, but it was only last week that we had enough firm evidence to present to the police,” said Derek Smith, animal health and welfare officer with Lancs Trading Standards at Preston.

The coming weeks will see Trading Standards officers working through “bags and bags” of paperwork relating to cattle identification and livestock movements that have been seized from the farmer concerned.

“It‘s difficult to say at this stage just how far back we’ll have to dig.”

Mr Smith would not comment on alleged rumours that the investigation is on the verge of exposing a nationwide black market in cattle passports.

Dealers and leading cattle producers throughout the UK told FARMERS WEEKLY that it was unlikely such a trade existed.

“I can honestly say I have never been approached to provide a passport. Nor have I ever heard of anyone else being involved in anything like that,” commented a major north country livestock farmer and trader.

“We are monitored and checked like never before. Most farmers are genuinely far too concerned about the ramifications of any illegal trading at that level.”

Lancs farmer Thomas Binns, chairman of the NFU‘s regional livestock board, said he was confident there was no black market in cattle passports.

“Farmers have too much to lose to get involved in that kind of activity. My main concern now is the timing of this. It’s very unfortunate that it has hit the headlines so close to the lifting of the 30-month scheme.”

“Although some farmers are critical of the cattle passport system, at least this has proved that while it may be tedious at times, it proves that a bureaucratic system can be very effective in picking out abuses of the rules,” said Mr Binns.

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com