Cattle producers are having to shoot calves, withhold beef from abattoirs and risk spreading bovine tuberculosis due to failures in a government computer system.

Following a change to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency’s system (see News, 7 October), vital paperwork approving the movement of cattle has not been sent and backlogs of thousands of animals have built up on farms.

A spokesman for AHVLA said that extra staff had been drafted in to process applications manually.

“We are now able to process applications for export health certificates for pedigree and breeding stock, for products of animal origin, and for consignments of calves drawn from their holding of birth in low TB incidence areas.

“Unfortunately we are not yet in a position to process applications for calf exports from high TB incidence regions.”

John Hoare, chairman of the NFU’s south-west livestock board, met AHVLA representatives on 14 November. “They are doing the best they can, but that doesn’t alter the fact that it affects the day-to-day running of our businesses. People are fattening cattle and need to move them to slaughter, not sit about waiting weeks for licences.

“These computers must be proven before they are implemented otherwise the whole system falls apart. There is total confusion and contradictory paperwork. All this bureaucracy needs to be changed to a risk-based system instead of making people jump through hoops.”

One pedigree beef farmer in Devon, who preferred not to be named, said the backlog was increasing the risk of TB. “I’ve got two reactor cows which I want to get off the farm as soon as possible. But AHVLA said it was likely to be three weeks before they could be slaughtered. We’ve got complete traceability so why can’t they just take them?”

Seamus Scallan, at the Wicklow Cattle Company, imports about 600 dairy bull calves a week to Ireland, and added that trade had virtually dried up.

“We applied a week in advance to move 310 calves – and only 20 were processed. It’s absolutely disgusting. We have farmers in Ireland waiting for those calves, and producers in the UK are having to shoot them as they can’t keep them any longer. Every other country in the EU can process paperwork on the day.”