Livestock farmers were plunged into chaos yesterday as they faced the prospect of extra vets' bills and more red tape following the introduction of new measures to tackle bovine TB.
The measures, which will see all cattle over 15 months tested for TB before they can be moved off farms, have been brought in as part of the Government's plans to prevent the disease from spiralling out of control.
TB is rapidly increasing in Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire, with cases rising by 20 per cent each year.
A decision on whether to cull badgers, which also harbour the disease, is still being considered by the Government following a consultation last month.
But the testing has provoked anger among farmers who fear it will increase costs and make it difficult to move animals to livestock markets and from one piece of land to another. They also fear there will not be enough vets to carry out the procedure.
Andrew Richards, senior food and farming adviser at NFU West Midlands, said the NFU was lobbying Government to pay for the vets' fees incurred as a result of the new testing.
The animals must test negative for the disease up to 60 days before they are moved, forcing farmers to decide whether to test their entire herd and move them within the allotted time or pay the vet for repeated visits to test individual animals. The NFU said farmers will have to pay about £15 per animal.
Mr Richards said Defra had not sufficiently explained the new rules to farmers and livestock auctioneers or allowed enough time for the scheme to be implemented.
He said: "We are back in chaos syndrome, we have regulations coming in but no real idea of how it will work.
"We still don't know what documents you need to prove tests have been done. It's going to cause immense aggravation for those looking to move cattle on a regular basis.
"We are pressing for Government to meet the costs of the full testing, at the moment they are simply paying for the test itself with the farmers paying for the vets' costs."
The start date had been postponed from February after lobbying by farmers' groups.
But Defra ordered a review which found no reason to delay the pre-movement TB testing any further. Defra describes pre-movement testing as a "critical tool" in tackling bovine TB, which in 2004 affected 3,300 animals.
Cattle being sold for slaughter are among those which are exempt from the TB tests. Animals which test positive are culled.
Farmers who fail to carry out the mandatory tests face a maximum penalty of six months in prison or a £5,000 fine.
Government chief veterinary officer Dr Debby Reynolds said pre-movement testing was a "vital and overdue" TB control measure.
"Bovine TB has reached severe levels in some parts of the country. Effective cattle controls are vital," she said.
The rules which come into force apply to herds in England which are already subject to TB tests every one to two years. The pre-movement testing will cause extra complications at the new Shrewsbury Livestock Market, which opens today.
The market has cattle from England and Wales, with the Welsh cattle exempt from the new regulations.
David Giles, chairman of Shrewsbury Livestock Market, said the Government was not addressing the TB problem. He said: "We are incensed, it is taking the issue away from the badger situation, so Defra can say it is doing something about it and at the same time not facing up to the real problem."
A spokesman for the Worcestershire-based State Veterinary Service denied farmers would struggle to find enough vets to carry out testing.
He added: "Defra commissioned a report into the avail-ability of veterinary capacity, particularly looking at high risk areas, and found no evidence to suggest insufficient capacity to deal with this new testing."