21 November 1997

Passport cost too high – NFU

PROPOSALS to charge farmers between £5 and £10 for each cattle passport, to fund the national computerised traceability scheme, have been denounced by the industry as excessively high and a tax on food production.

The NFU is deeply concerned that government is setting the passport costs so high because it wants farmers to fund the estimated £5m database establishment cost as well as the £18m running costs.

That is despite the former governments promise to cover the start-up charges, and the fact that the database in Northern Ireland, established in 1988, is entirely funded by government.

The union believes that if a charge has to be imposed, then it should be applied to each cattle movement registered, in a pay-as-you-go scheme, rather than being loaded on to passports (News, Nov 14), which means breeders alone will pay.

David Taylor, NFU south-west livestock committee chairman, argued that with about 45m cattle movements a year, the charge to record each of those would only need to be around 40p to cover the £18m annual running cost.

William Kilpatrick, National Cattle Association chairman, said in a letter to farm minister Jack Cunningham that the decision to "front load" costs would have a dramatic effect on the long-term viability of cattle breeding in the UK. The NCA has demanded an early meeting with the minister.

Douglas Batchelor, National Milk Records business development executive, said he could understand the practicalities of charging for passports, but said it would unfairly hit the dairy industry.

"It will mean MAFF can collect from a smaller section of the population – 45,000 farms as opposed to 120,000 farms. But, at present, the bulk of the charge is going on low value animals, and this will reduce calf prices, already hit by the export ban, still further," he said.

Both the Livestock Auctioneers Association and the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers are confident that their members will have computer software in place by the time the database is launched in the spring to allow movement information to be transferred electronically to MAFF.