AN INCREASE in the number of cases of bovine TB in Yorkshire has led to hundreds of "clean" farms suddenly finding themselves under tighter surveillance – and effectively being taxed for the privilege.
From January 1 this year, some 20 parishes have to have their cattle tested at least once every one or two or three years instead of once in four.
The downgradings are part of a new Defra strategy which has also seen testing intervals increased in 14 cases. And 48-month intervals still apply over most of Yorkshire.
But the overall effect of the review is to weaken the county's image as relatively TB-free.
It also means extra costs for farmers in the downgraded areas, because most animals in 24-month or 12-month parishes have to be tested before they can move out – meaning 17, plus vet's fees, and farmer's time and trouble for almost every animal sold.
New herds set up in 24-month zones have to undergo yearly testing to start with. And there are other difficulties and anomalies in the stricter regime which many Yorkshire farmers are discovering for the first time.
In an attempt to answer some of the questions raining down on the vets of Animal Health in Leeds – a division of Defra – and the NFU offices in York, both organisations will be represented at a meeting open to all farmers at Cedar Court, Ainley Top, HD3 3RH, on Thursday, January 20, from 8.15pm.
Clare Taylor, regional veterinary lead on TB for Animal Health, will be speaking and so will Adam Bedford, regional NFU adviser on livestock matters.
NFU representative Frank Chislett, who rears beef near Halifax, is among dozens caught by the redesignation of the parish defined as Halifax Urban Area, from a 48-month to a 24-month zone.
Neighbouring Denby Dale, Brighouse, Elland and Sowerby Bridge, have gone the same way, along with South Yorkshire parishes Wales, Woodseats, Gildingwells, Letwell, Todwick, Thurcroft, Thorpe Salvin, Dinnington St John's and Harthill with Woodall.
Harewood, West Yorkshire, is busted to 12-month testing and so are Seaton Ross and Thorngumbald, on Humberside.
Cullingworth and Sharlston, in West Yorkshire, are on 36-month testing and the 24-month victims want to know why they could not have started at that midway position, which carries fewer additional rules with it. Defra says previous decisions were based on six-year patterns but it has a new formula which extrapolates trends from more recent figures, so it can go "proactive" rather than "reactive" in tackling TB.
All the parishes affected have either had TB imported from outside Yorkshire or have neighbours who have.
Innocent farmers caught up in the consequences are likely to demand new restrictions on trading with TB hotspots.
Mr Chislett said: "I know a farmer who was close to an outbreak but is in a different parish and he can sell under a four-year test banner, while I am miles away but on a two-year test. I could quote many more examples which do not seem to make sense. Up to now, these problems have not been our problems. But now they are.
"I suspect a lot of farmers have had a letter about this and stuck it behind the clock on the mantelpiece. They need to catch up with what it all means."
But East Yorkshire NFU spokesman John Gatenby, another beef man, said: "There is a point to it all."
Last-chance bid to save prize bull
PAPERS have been filed applying for a last chance for Hallmark Boxster, the prize bull who has evaded Defra vets for nine months, ever since a positive TB test which owner Ken Jackson disputed.
As reported in the Yorkshire Post earlier this week, Mr Jackson, of Stubbs Walden, has learned that the first court order protecting Boxster from slaughter has expired and he has been given a deadline of January 19 to get another or give up the animal for slaughter.
He commented: "If they prove he has TB, I will do the job for them."
So far, Defra refuses re-tests on principle.