LONDON – Farmers in the United Kingdom who are overdue testing their cattle herds for bovine tuberculosis could face cuts in government subsidies under the government's new zero-tolerance policy, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs announced.

Starting in January 2014, any farm with an overdue bovine TB test — even a test late by one day — will face cuts in the Common Agricultural Policy payments they receive. The size of the penalty will determined on a case-by-case basis, but most penalties could reach 5 percent of farmers' payments, DEFRA reported. The agency noted there were 6,650 overdue TB tests in England out of 21,398 total tests.

“Late testing is unacceptable, so from 1 January 2014 anyone who fails to complete their test by the set deadline, even by one day, will see their CAP Scheme payment reduced,” said Environment Secretary Owen Paterson in a letter to the British parliament. “The reductions will vary, depending on the seriousness of the case, but the outcome I want to see is no late testing at all.”

Paterson said bovine TB was the most “worrying and costly” animal health problem facing cattle farmers in Great Britain with more than 305,000 head slaughtered in the past decade. He said the zero-tolerance policy was aimed at addressing the risk of cattle-to-cattle transmission of bovine TB. Paterson added that he is seeking consultation on proposals that would further tighten cattle controls.

“I recognize that these rigorous measures will be tough for a significant minority of livestock businesses,” Paterson said in his letter. “However, we will not achieve the aims of our Strategy, and be able to guarantee the future of thriving cattle industry we all wish to see, without tackling all of the vectors by which this disease can spread. That is why I remain committed to doing everything possible to get on top of and eradicate this devastating disease in both wildlife and cattle.”