DEFRA has hit back at wildlife campaigners following suggestions ear tag fraud is widespread among cattle farmers, saying the group was recycling an old story.

DEFRA has hit back at wildlife campaigners following suggestions ear tag fraud is widespread among cattle farmers, saying the group was recycling an old story.

In April the Government introduced compulsory DNA tagging to improve the traceability of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) reactors, after Animal Health officers uncovered three instances of farmers in the South West of England illegally swapping cattle ear tags to retain highly productive reactors.

Cow with ear tag. Photo: EU.Last month Powys farmer Emyr Jones Evans received a suspended prison sentence after presenting the wrong cow for slaughter in order to save a bTB infected pedigree animal.

Badger Trust spokesman Jack Reedy said assertions that tag swapping fraud was limited was “clearly optimistic” following the recent case and suspicions about fraud elsewhere.

He said: “DEFRA’s sudden, massive and expensive response to the scandal of farmers switching ear tags to foil bTB controls suggests these crimes are widespread rather than local.”

He went on to say plans for an English badger cull should be dropped “until the cattle industry and DEFRA have cleared up serious doubts about the scale of such crimes”. 

However a department spokesman refuted the Badger Trust’s demands, saying the group was recycling an old story and conflating legal action in England and Wales to suggest fraud was widespread.

He said: “A conviction in Wales doesn’t change the fact that bTB is on the rise in England and we need to tackle it. The majority of farmers are doing the right thing, and it would be wrong and unfair to vilify them all because of a few people who have chosen to break the rules.”

However, he confirmed: “Three prosecutions were launched in England but no convictions have been made yet.”

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