A legal challenge backed by the NFU and funded by its Legal Assistance Scheme has resulted in the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) scrapping a change to a guidance document for Approved Finishing Units (AFUs) which had left some farm businesses unable to operate.
The APHA had altered a note for its vets, without consultation with the industry, suggesting that when authorising AFUs with grazings, each land parcel had to either contain a building or border a land parcel containing a building.
The legal challenge was brought by Gloucestershire farmer Richard Hewlett, who was represented by NFU legal panel firm Clarke Willmott Solicitors.
Mr Hewlett, of R&J Hewlett Limited, said: “The change to the requirements was made without warning and would have had serious consequences for my business.
“The APHA’s decision to scrap the change, following the hard work of the NFU and Clarke Willmott Solicitors, is a huge relief to me and to other farmers who found themselves in a similar situation.”
Tim Hayden, head of agriculture at Clarke Willmott Solicitors, said: “This is a victory for common sense. Farmers are entitled to plan their business on the basis of published guidance.
“A change of policy, without consultation, is unfair and disruptive. At least APHA has withdrawn its revised guidance without the need for protracted court proceedings.”
Approved Finishing Units (AFUs) must be approved by APHA and must follow strict conditions to reduce the potential risk of disease spread.
AFUs provide a route for cattle keepers to fatten or finish animals from both TB-restricted and unrestricted farms.
Pre-movement testing must be carried out on cattle from TB restricted farms within 90 days before they are moved to the AFU and those with grazing must be TB tested every 90 days.
Minette Batters, NFU deputy president, said: “This is an excellent result for farmers with grazing AFUs.
“The change to the guidance was introduced last August without any consultation with industry, or any apparent disease control justification.
“AFUs with grazing offer a vital risk-based trading option for farmers in areas where bTB is endemic, such as the South West, and are an absolutely essential outlet to help maintain cattle trading in the bTB High Risk Areas, providing an effective and secure environment for rearing and finishing cattle.
“Farmers operating AFUs are already subject to stringent biosecurity requirements and the requirement by APHA to ensure buildings were on site, or on adjacent land, was nonsensical.
“This case highlights the importance of effective consultation with the industry, as even the slightest changes to guidance and policy can have serious consequences for farmers.”