Disbelief at Pirbright blood test charges

A Hampshire farming couple have expressed their anger and disbelief at the level of charges they face for blood-testing calves before moving them from their dairy farm in the foot-and-mouth “restricted zone” to a farm in the F&M “free zone”.

The fact that much of the test fee will be going to the government’s testing laboratory at Pirbright – the very source of the foot-and-mouth outbreak – has added insult to injury.

“We are trying to move 35 calves from our farm in the high-risk F&M zone to a farm in Suffolk,” said Catherine Mitchell of Creek Farm, north Hampshire. “But yesterday new regulations were published requiring our calves to be blood-tested before moving and all related costs paid by us.”

The calves are destined for a veal unit in Suffolk, producing meat for Waitrose. If the calves are not blood-tested, then the receiving farm will be subject to a 21-day standstill, something he was not prepared to do, said John Mitchell.

After several phone calls to their veterinarian, the Mitchells were told the cost for the blood test would be £16 a calf. Combined with vets fees, that would come to more than £20 each.

“We were shocked and asked who was making such an astronomical charge. The answer? Pirbright Laboratories! This was the final straw and a real kick in the teeth. We would like to see Pirbright offer testing free of charge to farmers. It is the least they could do.”

The new rules requiring animals to either be blood-tested or else subjected to a 21-day standstill, came into effect on Monday (19 November).

“It is the perverse outcome of having the EU shrink the size of the export restricted zones, that animals leaving these zones now have to be tested,” said NFU head of food and farming Kevin Pearce. “It just shows what we’ve said all along, that routine blood-testing by farmers is not commercially viable.”

The good news is that the blood-testing/standstill requirements will be dropped for all but a small area in about 10 days’ time, when export restictions are lifted for most of the country, (see p8).