Farmers were meant to have a choice, where possible, of which vets they could use for TB testing, under the new regime introduced in England last year. It is not working out that way, some farmers are now claiming.
Farmers have complained of being ‘discriminated against’ through being unable to use their preferred vet for TB testing under the regime introduced in England last year.
Under the changes, which came into place in May last year, five regional companies operating under the XL Farmcare banner became Delivery Partners responsible for TB testing in England.
Under the arrangements, the companies were meant to ensure farmers had the choice, where possible, to use their preferred vets.
A number of farmers and vets across the country feel this principle has not been adhered to. In some areas there have been disputes between veterinary companies over their respective rights to carry out the testing.
At a recent NFU council meeting, one farmer complained her two neighbours could use their own vets but her farm could not.
“We have got to use the vets we have been told to use. It is very unfair, we have been unfairly discriminated against and it is unethical,” she said.
Another expressed serious concerns about the situation in the North East, where he said farmers had lost confidence in the system.
NFU livestock chairman Charles Sercombe said the union had been assured when the contracts were awarded ‘people would still retain the option to use their own vets’.
“We are disappointed our members feel they are being unfairly treated and the companies are using this as an excuse to grow their own businesses,” he said
He said the conditions around testing had become ‘more prescriptive’ and farmers were finding it harder to cope with the rules.
Mr Sercombe stressed the sentiments expressed at the meeting were being reflected more widely among members and the NFU had ’quite a few comments from members’ along these lines recently.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters has already passed on the concerns of some members to chief vet Nigel Gibbens, who has been handed letters outlining farmers’ concerns on the subject.
Mr Sercombe said the NFU would ’continue to lobby at the highest level on the issue’.
Bridget Taylor, chairman of XL Farmcare North, said: "The five XL Farmcare regional companies continue to fully embrace farmer choice and where possible maintain the link between local veterinary practice and farmer.
"In the first year of delivery of the contract for TB testing all existing providers of the service had the opportunity to register as approved suppliers for year 1.
"There were contract eligibility conditions that all approved suppliers needed to meet; if they were met and the farmers named that practice as their preference, then the link between farmer and local vet continued to be fully maintained.
"Year 2 contracts (commencing 1st May 2016) have been awarded to the vast majority of suppliers who acted as subcontractors for the five English delivery partners in year 1 of the contract with APHA.
"A small number of veterinary practices applied, but did not have year 2 contracts awarded. This was because they failed to meet the acceptance criteria specified in the year 2 contract.
"APHA has approved the reasons for the decisions made by the Delivery Partners in this respect. Those practices can thus not offer Government funded TB testing to their farm clients.
"The affected farmers have each been contacted and allocated to an alternative contracted supplier practice in their neighbourhood for provision of their Government funded TB testing services.
"If a farmer is wishes to use a different contracted supplier practice he can contact the Delivery Partner to discuss this."