By Emma Penny

BEEF and dairy producers are likely to face more cattle database paperwork in the new year as the British Cattle Movement Service attempts to make its database fully operational.

Making the database comply with EU legislation means all cattle within Britain – the national herd – must be on the system, says NFU livestock policy adviser Carol Lloyd.

“The greater proportion of EU member states already have fully operational databases, and can pinpoint the location of any cattle in their national herds.

“We know the exact location of animals with new cattle passports, but not older stock,” explains Ms Lloyd.

“Britain is obliged to be fully operational under EU rules, and we are just waiting for MAFFs consultation to find out how it plans to do this, which may come out before Christmas.”

She says the body which pays out farm subsidies – FEOGA – is also keen to ensure the database is fully operational.

It is paying subsidy on older animals, such as suckler cows, and is obviously keen to ensure that they exist.

“There is a potential benefit from having a fully operational database, as this means national inspections may – subject to EC approval – fall from 10% to 5% of holdings.

“There would also be scope to scrap the existing passport system under EU-wide identification rules.”

The governments working group on the cattle database believes that industry benefits will outweigh the task of recording location and subsequent cattle movements.

However, it acknowledges that the burden on industry must be minimised.

It says that wherever possible, existing database information – including that from TB testing – will be used to submit a list of cattle on each farm to minimise risk of clerical errors.

Ms Lloyd says after consultation is complete, producers are likely to receive a listing of all animals MAFF believes are on their holding.

“The list will probably be issued in early spring, and producers will be expected to say whether or not those animals are on-farm.

“The NFU is trying to get the pressure on producers minimised – we would like any checks to coincide with management tasks – and believe that producers should be able to complete a self-declaration that the animals are either on-farm or not.”

MAFF is, however, planning to have a window within which cattle should be checked.

Otherwise, the proportion of cattle moving between herds increases, making tracing them for a database more difficult.

But Ms Lloyd is keen that MAFF introduces an amnesty on animals moved without either a passport or MAFF licence.

“Animals which do not have a passport – perhaps it was applied for too late – can only be moved under special MAFF licence, and then only for slaughter under rules introduced on Apr 15, 1998,” she says.

“Although cattle should have a valid passport before they are moved, our feeling is that some animals may have moved to other herds without passports or a special licence.

“We need an amnesty to ensure these animals do go onto the database, otherwise they wont be notified and well miss the whole point of the exercise.”

Where cattle are included on the accelerated herd system, the NFU is suggesting that they might be issued with a document indicating that they are recorded.

“There may be a benefit in MAFF issuing a sheet providing details submitted on the database for each individual animal, but theres no point in giving older animals a passport because they will be entering the over thirty-month scheme,” says Ms Lloyd.