Change in government scheme could cause beef industry serious ‘cashflow problems’

The beef industry is calling for the government to provide a four-year extension before any phasing out of the Approved Finishing Units (AFUs).

Changes to the scheme, which are in the pipeline, could cause “serious welfare and cashflow problems” for farmers, according to the National Beef Association (NBA).

AFUs were first introduced to provide a route into rearing, fattening or finishing cattle from TB-restricted and unrestricted farms. These must be applied for and approved by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

AFUs fall into grazing and without grazing categories. Grazing AFUs can be approved in annual testing areas. Cattle that have been sourced from restricted herds must have a clear test within 90 days after their movement – with the exception of calves under the age of six weeks old.

Without grazing AFUs will only be approved in annual testing areas where breakdowns with post-mortem or culture evidence of disease have been indicated and the source likely to be from wildlife.

The NBA has said the proposed phasing out of AFUs could lead to a detrimental effect on producers in restricted areas.

According to the association, AFUs with grazing are subject to extensive biosecurity controls and testing regimes. These are designed to minimise any threat to other cattle and wildlife. Methods include specific fencing and statutory 90-day testing.

NBA chief executive, Chris Mallon, said AFUs with grazing are necessary to the UK beef industry due to them offering a market for TB-restricted cattle that would otherwise be worthless.

“Without AFUs these cattle would be further dispersed and the potential of disease spread significantly increased,” he said. “There are a number of strict regulations and regimes in place to ensure that the risk of disease spread is as low as possible.”

It has been proposed that areas that have finished their first year of culling in a four-year contract will lose any AFUs with grazing.

“This move would cause severe hardships to farmers and reduced welfare to cattle, particularly younger cattle from restricted farms that need to move,” said Bill Harper, chairman of the NBA TB committee and NBA board member.

“There is no net gain in terms of disease risk and these cattle will either stay on the farm of its origin and be grazed in an overstocked situation or they will be moved to clean areas.”

The NBA claimed that AFUs show low incidence of reactors and are essential to ensuring the beef sector can exist in areas with a TB problem.

“Until the need of AFUs has dissipated we cannot phase them out as this could be catastrophic for farmers,” added Mallon. “AFUs will phase themselves out naturally without government intervention as TB reduces and the supply of restricted cattle evaporate.”

The association also highlighted concerns over the requirements of several native cross-breed schemes which demand cattle are grazed on. Some dairy herds use native breed semen to increase the beef value of their stock, resulting in an economic impact on beef and dairy sectors. Subsequently, native breeds will become less desirable among producers, according to the NBA.

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