A DAIRY farmer must fork out £3,500 after pleading guilty to breaking laws aimed at disease control in cattle following the advent of 'mad cow disease'.
The former Master of the Cheshire Hunt, Thomas Randle Cooke, of Pigeon House Farm, Handley, admitted two counts of moving cattle without the relevant passports, failing to keep a register showing the movements of a beast and re-tagging cattle without notifying the relevant government department.
Cooke was fined £2,500 and ordered to pay £1,000 costs by Chester magistrates.
Barrister Sheila Edwards, prosecuting for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said passport legislation was brought in following the spread of BSE in cattle which led to the killer disease, new variant CJD, in people.
Mrs Edwards said: 'It came about as a result of the BSE epidemic and the Government needing to be able to trace cattle - where they had come from - so that if there is an infected animal, other infected cattle can be found and isolated and dealt with.'
She compared the passport accompanying each beast as like a vehicle excise licence.
'It goes everywhere with the animal. If you go to the bigger markets around here like Beeston you can see them being handed over. It's very important and everyone knows how important they are.
'It's also important farmers keep records when animals come on their farm and when leaving, where they are going to.' Mrs Edwards said because of the dangers to the food chain these matters had to be taken 'extremely seriously'.
She said matters relating to Cooke came to light as a result of investigations into cattle dealer Robin Arden from Tarporley which resulted in Arden receiving a £10,000 fine, with £2,500 costs, after appearing before North-wich magistrates on 18 charges.
She said 106 unused ear tags were found in Arden's office. 'There were cattle waiting around without ear tags on,' she said.
Turning to the case involving Cooke, Mrs Edwards said Defra knew him to be an 'extremely experienced farmer' with no previous convictions.
She said the first charge related to him allowing a particular cow on to his holding without a passport between August 13, 1998 and November 13, 2000. The second charge related to not entering the movement into the re-cord book within six hours of the beast moving on to his farm.
The third charge related to moving another cow on to the holding without a passport between February 1 and February 3, 2001.
Mrs Edwards said both cows were bought from Mr Arden.
The fourth charge, described as the 'most serious', related to the re-tagging of nine beasts between April 1 and May 1, 2002. Mrs Edwards said Cooke had failed to notify the British Cattle Move-ment Service within 14 days that he had put new ear tags on them.
'Mr Arden was supplying passports to Mr Cooke and getting ear tags to match up with the new cattle,' commented Mrs Edwards, who said the passports came from 'disappeared cattle'.
'A lot of time and effort has gone into tracing where these animals have gone to,' added the prosecutor, who estimated the whole investigation involving Arden and Cooke had cost more than £11,000.
John Heath, defending, said it was clear Arden was the 'prime man under suspicion' and Cooke was his customer.
He said Cooke had a 300-strong herd of which about 270 were dairy cows. He said dealer Arden used to drop off cows, sometimes when there was no-one at the farm, with passports left on a tank. But sometimes one or two were missing or none were left at all.
'It's easy to say why doesn't he deal with other dealers but other dealers don't give him such a special deal,' said Mr Heath, who explained that his client had a special arrangement with Arden which meant he could send a cow back if it failed to live up to expectations in terms of milk production.
'He knows it was wrong and he doesn't shy away from that fact but he was being put in a difficult position by the dealer,' added Mr Heath. He said the failure to re-cord the movement in the proper book was an error by a stockman but Cooke accepted it was ultimately his responsibility.
Asking for any fine to be kept to a minimum, Mr Heath said Defra had seized eight beasts, costing his client £5,000 in lost income.