1 March 1996

English alone fork out £94 for dairy visits

Milk producers in England and Wales pay £94 for each dairy hygiene inspection. But why should they be forced to pay when there is no charge in Scotland or Northern Ireland? Shelley Wright and Allan Wright report

DISCRIMINATION faced by milk producers in England and Wales over dairy hygiene inspection fees is blatantly unfair and must end, according to Cumbrian farmer Ian Watson.

Farming less than 10 miles south of the Scottish border Mr Watson, who is also chairman of Milk Marque, says it is unjust that he should have to pay £94 for every inspection while his Scottish counterparts pay nothing.

"But the discrimination is unfair whether you are 10 miles or 110 miles from the Scottish border," he says. Producers in Northern Ireland also get their hygiene tests free.

Mr Watson, who runs 140 cows at Newlands Farm, near Carlisle, adds that though producers resent the principle of having to pay for the inspections, they are more irate at the level of the charge.

"People get very uptight that an inspection can take as little as 15 minutes but costs £94.

Since deregulation the milk market has moved away from being run regionally to become a UK business, which makes the discrimination even worse."

He suggests band A producers should be inspected less regularly than at present and that resources should be targeted at increasing the frequency of inspection on farms where hygiene standards are not so good.

But he is not convinced a legal challenge by the NFU is the best way to resolve the matter. "Whenever anyone mentions legal challenges £ signs start to flash before my eyes. But questions need to be put to the farm minister immediately because this issue needs to be addressed."

North of the border a licence to produce milk is granted by local environmental health officers and no charge is made for annual hygiene inspections.

Scots never paid

"That is the way it has always been in Scotland and we have never thought about having to pay for the annual test," said Ian Wilson, who has 135 cows in the Drum herd near Dumfries.

"The officials are very thorough but fair, inspecting not only to milk parlour and bulk tank building but also the cubicles and the general cleanliness of the dairy enterprise," said Mr Wilson.

As a director of Scottish Pride, Scotlands biggest milk retail and processing business, he views dairy inspections as a natural part of the consumer assurance process.

Questions need answering, says Milk Marque chairman, Ian Watson.