13 August 1999

Cattle passport fees meet with stiff opposition

By FW reporters

CATTLE industry representatives have stepped up their efforts to persuade the government not to introduce a £7 charge for cattle passports from the end of September.

Officials from farming organisations and the meat trade met junior farm minister Baroness Hayman on Wednesday to urge the government to continue to fund the passport system.

They told the minister that farmers would not accept the plans, which would cost the industry more than £18 million a year, at a time when prices were plunging to new lows.

In addition, they criticised the government for making no attempt to encourage the widespread use of potentially cheaper electronic data transfer by offering a reduced fee for those using the technology.

According to the British Cattle Movement Service figures, around 6% of all cattle movements to date have been recorded by e-mail.

Speaking after the meeting, NFU livestock advisor Carol Lloyd said the minister undertook to consider the industrys views but warned that there was little room for manoeuvre.

Meanwhile, the Scottish NFU insisted in its submission to the government that BCMS should continue to be funded by taxpayers because cattle traceability was a public health issue.

But, if farmers did end up having to pay, the cost should be £5.30 and not £7. The union insisted that the £1.15 allocated for on-farm inspections should not be part of the passport charge, and a figure of 92p for depreciation was difficult to justify. It also queried the "very obscure" 33p for support of the cattle passport service from other government departments.

Conservative MP Christopher Gill has also written to Baroness Hayman, asking her to consider the impact of increased meat inspection charges on smaller abattoirs.

Peter Scott, secretary of the British Meat Federation, agreed that smaller abattoirs had enough problems at the moment without facing additional costs.

The meat trade is pressing the government to ditch its plans to pass the £2m/year cost of checking cattle eartags back to slaughterhouse operators.