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Farming in crisis Tuesday, 14 September, 1999, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Form-filling infuriates farmers
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Imagine you are a cattle farmer. Imagine you plan to buy a young calf at market. Then look at the official form for the completion of a cattle passport application to allow it to move freely.

Farming in crisis
"If you buy a calf under 28 days old that does not have a full passport, the previous keeper must give you the temporary calf passport. Check that:

  • Sections 1 and 2 have been completed and match the animal,
  • Section 3 should not be completed,
  • Section 4 has been completed,
  • Sections 5, 6 and 7 may be blank, but if not check that they have been fully completed,
  • Section 8 should not be completed..."

    Clear so far? That is just as well, because on it goes, paragraph succeeding section, explanations teetering on the brink of incomprehension, for page after page.

    That is just one small example of the sort of form-filling that farmers say is making their work difficult and their lives miserable.

    The complaint is common to virtually every sector of farming. And it is backed up by copious anecdotal evidence.

    Livestock farmers, for example, have to deal with cattles passports, movement records for the British Cattle Movement Service, and various meat hygiene regulations.

    Arable farmers have to contend with the dreaded IACS (Integrated Administration and Control System) forms, which determine the amount of money they receive from the Common Agricultural Policy.

    One Devon farmer was fined 1,790 for an IACS mistake made nearly four years earlier, although he had sought official help in getting it right.

    Forms for a purpose

    Cows now have to have two eartags and if one of them is the wrong colour the owner can face a criminal conviction.

    Consumer confidence demands detailed record-keeping
    Consumer confidence demands detailed record-keeping
    The NFU president, Ben Gill, tells the story of a farmer who took 40 sheep for slaughter, and found six officials at the abattoir to supervise the killing for various agencies.

    It all sounds very unfair and unnecessary. But there is a reason for the bureaucracy - two main reasons in fact.

    With many of the forms, the rewards for filling them in correctly are considerable. Completing your IACS form properly, for example, means you qualify for CAP support.

    The sums involved in EU subsidies are so huge that there has to be a rigorous system to see that taxpayers' money is being properly spent.

    And with many of the livestock forms, what is at stake is the protection of public health. It does often give farmers a headache to have to go through all the motions, but it means customers know much more about where their meat has come from.

    Another level of bureaucracy comes from tighter animal welfare regulations. Farmers legitimately complain that often these do not exist in other EU countries, or if they do, are not enforced strictly.

    The BSE crisis spawned a welter of new regulations and forms to be filled in. That does make life more complicated for farmers.

    But public trust in farmers is less than it used to be. Bureaucracy is not that high a price to pay for trying to recover it.

  • See also:

    20 Aug 99 | Wales
    Links to more Farming in crisis stories are at the foot of the page.


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