23 February 1996

Hygiene rules for dairies challenge?

By Liz Mason

NFU officials are investigating a possible legal challenge to dairy hygiene inspection rules.

The move follows fresh criticism over dairy hygiene inspections from north-west producers. Cumbria NFU recently passed a resolution from Carlisle urging headquarters "to investigate the possibility of mounting a legal challenge in support of dairy producers".

Members claim producers in England and Wales, who are charged £94 for each visit, suffer discrimination because Scottish producers escape the charge.

Dr Julie Smith, NFU milk adviser said headquarters would look into the possibility of a legal challenge and advisers are now studying the governments dairy hygiene regulations.

NFU officials are also waiting for a government move to allow the inspections to be put out to tender.

Under present rules MAFF must either carry out the inspections itself or employ a "competent agency in the form of ADAS."

A MAFF spokesman said dairy hygiene inspections could be "market tested" under the Deregulation Act 1994. But there were no plans to do so at the moment.

More self-certification?

Dr Smith added that NFU officials were still talking to ADAS, in an attempt cut the number of inspections through a move to more self-certification.

Figures showed the average number of inspection visits was one every 2.5 years. But some producers were receiving three a year and others an annual inspection. If milk quality was of the highest standard, in Band A for TBC, there should be no need for inspection, added Dr Smith.

The NFUs view is shared by Kent producer Gail West who has had six inspection visits in five years. But the herd at Weller Farm, Sundridge had been in Band A for whole of that time with no contamination or taint failures.

"If annual visits are a norm this should apply to all dairy farms, But there is no evidence this is so. In fact visits have been more frequent here since our milk has been TBC 5 or less," said Ms West.

Inspections are not needed in Band A, says the NFU.