9 April 1999

Inspection fee still unlevied

ABATTOIRS continued to operate this week without BSE-related meat inspection charges being applied to operators.

The £21m/year charges for meat inspection were due to be passed back to the industry from Apr 1. But FARMERS WEEKLY revealed exclusively last week that government was still considering who should bear the costs.

This week a MAFF spokesman confirmed that a decision had still to be reached. Negotiations continued and a timescale for any final decision had not been set.

In Scotland, Neil Stoddart, deputy president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, interpreted the continued absence of a government decision as good news.

"We remain hopeful that these costs will continue to be met by government or, at the very least, that some formula will be found to protect our small abattoirs which will go under if inspection charges are applied in full," he said.

The issue is made more sensitive in Scotland where the official Scottish parliamentary election period begins next Tuesday. After that, any government announcement which could be interpreted as vote catching is banned.

An NFU official said the union was pleased that the charges had not been introduced and would continue to press for the government to bear the costs.

Slaughter review

THE governments animal welfare adviser The Farm Animal Welfare Council is to undertake a major review of the welfare of livestock at slaughter.

But it is unclear at the moment whether or not religious slaughter without pre-stunning will be included in the review.

FAWCs investigation will cover the welfare of all animals from the time of arrival at the place of slaughter until death. A council spokesman said a letter had been sent out to many slaughter establishments, farming organisations and to various religious groups to collate information.

But he said he was unsure whether religious slaughter would be reviewed. "If they [religious groups] do not reply to the letter then it may be that the council will opt not follow up these issues," he said.

Conventional slaughter premises and knackers yards will be scrutinised. But the loading, collection, and transportation of animals to the slaughterhouse and all slaughterhouse operations after killing will not be reviewed.

HLCAreforms will switch

from headage to area aid

GOVERNMENT is to conduct a wide-ranging consultation on reform of Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances to comply with the Agenda 2000 settlement. The main change will involve a switch from headage payments to area aid.

The Welsh and Scottish Offices have released details, with MAFF expected to follow next week.

To the horror of the farming unions, the Welsh consultation document insists that basing payments on a historic reference year for field area or stocking densities will not be permitted. Neither will a scheme delivering a simple flat rate undifferentiated payment across less favoured areas (LFAs). Payments must be differentiated to meet local needs, and the paper warns that some will lose out with the switch to area payments.

The Scottish Office, however, hints that the effect of the move to area aid should be minimal. "While avoiding redistribution cannot be an objective in itself, it would be helpful to have comments on how this may be avoided," its consultation paper says.

Both documents contain controversial questions, such as should payments be higher for land used for beef than for sheep? Should coverage be extended to include deer farming or dairy farming in the LFA? Should arable farming be included? Should payments take any account of the role of livestock?

The paper from the Scottish Office also states that future support is conditional on farming a minimum area (yet to be defined) in a way that cares for the environment. There also has to be an undertaking to pursue farming in the LFA for at least five years from the first of the new payments.

Both Welsh unions, although yet to study the consultation document in detail, issued warnings about possible implications.

They highlighted that the relatively small size of many Welsh units, and heavy long term investment in land improvement, allowed more intensive stocking than in other parts of the UK.

"Many family farms are very vulnerable if payments are paid on a hectarage basis with no reference to historical support arrangements," said Arwyn Owen, the FUWs commodity officer.

Bill Goldsworthy, director of the NFU in Wales, said: "The NFU does not accept that historical references cannot be applied and will fight any changes that threaten the futures of LFA farmers. It is not good enough to say there will be winners and losers. Payments must be tailored to ensure that the overall level of hill farming support is maintained."

Scottish NFU president Jim Walker said he was pleased the Scottish Office seemed to favour as little change as possible.

"We do not want big winners or losers. We want a simple system that is easy to administer and continues to deliver help to the most fragile of our farming area."

he said.

EAaims to cut sheep dip risk

THE Environment Agency has launched a new sheep dip strategy to reduce pollution risks.

The agency said the shift towards using synthetic pyrethroid dips, which are potentially more harmful to aquatic organisms than traditional dips, had increased the risk of more serious pollution incidents.

But the new strategy aims to minimise legal controls and instead encourages farmers and contractors to adopt a positive approach to pollution prevention.

Copies of the Sheep Dip Strategy are available from the Environment Agency R & D Dissemination Centre, Swindon, Wilts.

Committee chairAFF

PHILLIP Thomas, formerly principal of Scottish Agricultural College, has been appointed chairman of the new advisory committee on animal feedingstuffs. Membership of the committee, which will play a role in ensuring that animal feed is safe for both animals and consumers, is expected to be finalised within a few weeks.

Farmers markets are becoming increasingly popular. On Saturday in Perth (left), the first such market to be held in Scotland, was a resounding success. There were 14 stalls selling home-produced meat from beef to wild boar and ostrich plus frozen soft fruit, eggs, fish, preserves, and other commodities. One farmer sold six lambs at twice the price he would have received at auction. All the traders were sold out by early afternoon. The venture is to be repeated next month. Meanwhile, Nick and Joan Hardingham (right) reported excellent trade at the third market they have held at their Alder Carr Farm, Needham Market, Suffolk. Local produce on offer included home-cured bacon, wild boar sausages, honey and eggs.

Breed code for ads near

CATTLE breeding companies have agreed to introduce an industry code of practice to ensure that the claims made in their advertisements are not misleading.

At a meeting this week, representatives of the countrys leading breeding companies agreed that the industry must work towards the introduction of formal code to govern what type and production information should be included in adverts.

The National Association of Breeder Services will draw the code together within the next month.

The code will be based on the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) guidance that adverts should be "legal, decent, honest, truthful". It will also draw upon a code produced over two years ago by the Animal Data Centre (ADC). This code was abandoned after an independent report on the whole genetics industry recommended that the ADC should not be involved.

Roger Smith, NABS chairman, described the decision as a milestone. The industry has been heavily criticised in recent weeks for making unsubstantiated claims, but the agreement would "move us a million miles further on", he said.

MAFFTBstudyAFF

MAFF has announced the launch of a new study to investigate why some farms suffer TB incidents while others in the same vicinity do not.

Farmers involved in the trial will be asked for information on cattle movements, husbandry and farm management practices, wildlife on farms, the local environment, local weather and patterns of badger activity.

Guide covers CTS

FARMERS are to be sent a guide by the British Cattle Movement Service which explains the rules for inspections made as part of the Cattle Tracing System.

The leaflet explains what farmers can expect if they are inspected and what inspectors are required to do. It also explains what will happen if problems or mistakes are found. Finally, it explains what penalties can be applied if the rules are broken.

New seed rules in place by July

By Jonathan Riley

THE government has promised to introduce new seed regulations by July in an attempt to avoid an embarrassing High Court battle with three MPs and environmental campaigners over the approval of genetically modified seed.

A legal challenge was launched last week by Norman Baker (Lib Dem), Alan Simpson (Labour), John Randall (Con) and Friends of the Earth.

The group was seeking a judicial review of a government decision last month to bypass lengthy parliamentary procedures by including GM seed varieties within an existing non-statutory seed approval scheme.

The non-statutory scheme allows seeds to be "certified" for sale outside the statutory certification regime while at the same time being tested for entry on to the National Seed List.

According to MAFFs Internet website, the scheme allows for marketing immediately after listing, "thereby permitting speedy commercialisation of new seed varieties".

FoE estimates that that could cut up to two years off the time needed to bring GMs to the market.

Peter Roderick, FoEs legal adviser, said the challenge was based on the governments proposal to allow certification of GM seeds without parliamentary approval.

And he divulged that government lawyers responded to the request for a judicial review within 24 hours of the group visiting the high court.

A letter from MAFF said: "We will be coming forward more quickly with specific proposals to amend the legislation in order to deal with the points you have raised.

"In the light of this we would invite you to agree to a stay of application [for a judicial review] pending the revision of the legislation."

But Mr Roderick said the group had yet to decide whether to proceed.

"During our investigation we found that the entire non-statutory approval scheme, under which the majority of all seed passes, has been run by MAFF since 1975 without ever passing before parliament. It is, therefore, illegal too," he said.

No progress

That could mean any seeds which have passed through the non-statutory scheme and are waiting to be certified will not be allowed to progress further until new legislation is passed in July.

One of the challenging MPs, Mr Baker, said that while GM crops were being rushed through the approval system there were still important environmental and practical questions that remained unanswered.

"We still do not know enough about GM crops and how they will behave in the long term when released into the environment.

"Nobody yet knows – farmers or seed companies – who would be liable if things went wrong after planting," he said.

Labours Alan Simpson (left), Lib-Dem Norman Baker and Frankenstein (right) challenged the GMapproval scheme in the High Court.

Wet blanket due for water abstractors

Farmers abstracting water face tougher rules after a review of controls by the Environment Agency…………………….page 12

Pain in cull…

Whod pay £1750 a head for third lactation cows? But that figure states the real financial impact of a high herd culling rate, Lancs dairy farmers have been told………………….page 36

MIDaStouch?

Minimal Impact Dairy Systems (MIDaS) are aimed at finding ways of reducing nutrient inputs without affecting dairy income at ADASBridgets…………………..page 42

Health spearhead

Britain is trailing behind the rest of the world in animal health and the eradication of diseases, other than BSE, according to a leading dairy producer…………………..page 43

Back on track

Arable growers are back on schedule with spring work, say advisers, but huge variations in crop conditions mean extra care is needed…………………..page 49

Strob does job

Spring barley margins could get the biggest boost of all from strobilurin fungicides, according to HGCAtrials…….page 52

Sludge safety?

What you always wanted to know about sewage sludge but were afraid to ask. Is sludge safe and what are the pros and cons of using it?…………page 60

Cats new home…

Three of Caterpillars smaller Challenger rubber-tracked tractors will now be produced in a plant in Illinois, USA, rather than Canada……page 65

Rain in Spain

Thanks to rain at the right time for the past four years, farming in Spain is currently on a high. We report from the Zaragoza machinery fair where things were really buzzing…….page 66