A investigation into how farm animal health, welfare and transport regulations are enforced has revealed more than 65,000 breaches over 21 months. Research by the Badger Trust to assess enforcement in counties where there is a persistent problem with bovine tuberculosis revealed huge disparities at county level in England and Wales.
The trust said the limited enforcement in some counties meant infectious disease controls, such as the pre-movement testing of cattle for TB, to be introduced in April, may prove to be ineffective.
Badger Trust spokesman Trevor Lawson said Trading Standards Officers would be in the front line of enforcing new rules for the pre-movement testing of cattle for TB.
'But this report shows huge inconsistencies which mean that this vital TB control measure might not be effective,' he said.
'Ministers must act promptly to ensure that all local authorities have adequate resources and clear guidance to enforce farm animal health, welfare and transport legislation consistently.'
The study, using statistics uncovered under the Freedom of Information Act, showed that between January 1, 2004 and September 30 last year, farmers, hauliers, abattoirs and livestock markets breached farm animal health, welfare and transport regulations more than 65,000 times.
More than 10 prosecutions were begun every week in 2004, rising to 14 a week in 2005, but fines were often paltry. Prosecutions ranged from 1.7% of herds in Cornwall to none at all in Derbyshire and Staffordshire.
Farmers in neighbouring counties faced widely differing levels of enforcement, with those in Cornwall 15 times more likely to face prosecution than those in Devon. In Wales, farmers in Powys were twice as likely to receive a warning and four times as likely to be prosecuted than in neighbouring Dyfed. Mr Lawson said the legislation was so complex many would break the law out of ignorance when they would rather comply with it.
'Nevertheless, the huge number of warnings, cautions and prosecutions that were issued in this period indicate that farm animal health, welfare and transport remains a serious cause for concern,' he said. 'If there is little risk of being prosecuted, there is little prospect of compliance.'
Figures for bTB hotspot areas of Wales were: Dyfed (Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion): 5,357 herds, 238 warnings, six prosecutions; Gwent: 1,084 herds, 56 warnings, two prosecutions; Powys 2,894 herds, 482 warnings, 14 prosecutions. …