Fear of calf export ban after TB outbreak

The calf export industry has been thrown into turmoil after 12 British-reared calves that were exported to the Netherlands tested positive for bovine TB.

The calves were exported from a single premises in the UK to six farms in the Netherlands. Since the discovery of the disease, a further 27 farms that were in contact with the six have been placed under restriction and more than 4,000 cattle are being tested for the disease.

The Netherlands has been free of bovine TB since 1999 and Dutch farmers have reacted angrily to news of the infection. Some of the country's biggest veal importers have threatened to ban British imports with immediate effect until the UK solves the issue of TB.

The Dutch Farmers Union told Farmers Weekly that traders and farmers had now enforced their own commercial suspension of imports.

"There's no official decision over an export ban, but farmers and dealers have made a commercial decision to stay away from cattle imported from risk areas," Frans Van Dongen, DFU director of international affairs, said.

"But you can't sell UK calves in the Netherlands at the moment. People are too afraid. They want to know what the risks are."

Reportedly, Belgian farmers are also refusing to take British calf and cattle imports. Exporters fear that an EU ban could be in force by next week.

Kim Haywood, National Beef Association chief executive, said the situation was a "catastrophe" for the calf export industry. "Export agents have had enough; they have lost millions of pounds already. If this builds momentum in Europe, the consequences could be dire. It would be the end of the trade," she said.

"The government's inability to deal with the disease has resulted in potential export bans similar to BSE, which we spent years trying to resolve."

It is understood that British officials are in discussions with the Dutch authorities over the matter.