NFU success as APHA agrees to scrap ‘nonsensical’ change to AFU guidance

A legal challenge backed by the NFU and funded by its Legal Assistance Scheme has resulted in the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) scrapping a change to a guidance document for Approved Finishing Units (AFUs) which left some farm businesses unable to operate.

The challenge followed a change to a guidance note to APHA vets relating to the authorisation of AFUs with grazing. The guidance change – which made it a requirement for each land parcel to either contain a building or border a land parcel containing a building – was made without any consultation with, or explanation to, the industry.

The legal challenge was brought by Gloucestershire farmer Richard Hewlett, who was represented by NFU legal panel firm Clarke Willmott Solicitors, and was supported by the NFU and its Legal Assistance Scheme.

Mr Hewlett, of R&J Hewlett Limited, said: “The change to the requirements was made without warning and would have had serious consequences for my business. The APHA’s decision to scrap the change, following the hard work of the NFU and Clarke Willmott Solicitors, is a huge relief to me and to other farmers who found themselves in a similar situation.”

Tim Hayden, Head of Agriculture at Clarke Willmott Solicitors, said: “This is a victory for common sense. Farmers are entitled to plan their business on the basis of published guidance. A change of policy, without consultation, is unfair and disruptive. At least APHA has withdrawn its revised guidance without the need for protracted court proceedings.”

Minette Batters, NFU Deputy President, said: “This is an excellent result for farmers with grazing AFUs. The change to the guidance was introduced last August without any consultation with industry, or any apparent disease control justification.

“AFUs with grazing offer a vital risk based trading option for farmers in areas where bTB is endemic, such as the South West, and are an absolutely essential outlet to help maintain cattle trading in the bTB High Risk Areas, providing an effective and secure environment for rearing and finishing cattle. Farmers operating AFUs are already subject to stringent biosecurity requirements and the requirement by APHA to ensure buildings were on site, or on adjacent land, was nonsensical.

“This case highlights the importance of effective consultation with the industry, as even the slightest changes to guidance and policy can have serious consequences for farmers,” Ms Batters said.

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