At present, the passports are provided free, but the pounds 7 charge of each new passport will be more than some calves are fetching at market.
Some farmers have been dumping calves in phone boxes and at the gates of RSPCA sanctuaries in protest at the state of the industry. The society has had to kill some of the calves because the animals did not have ear- tags and so could not be identified.
The new charges come at the worst time for farmers, who have seen incomes drop by as much as 75 per cent over the past two years. Farmers will have to pay an extra pounds 27.4m until March 2000, a sum covering the cost of administering the cattle passport scheme and inspections to see that animals are properly tagged.
The National Farmers' Union said the charges could send many hard-hit farmers to the wall. "It is totally unacceptable to think of charging farmers when they are in such crisis," said a spokeswoman for the NFU. "Already, the cost of producing the animals is more than they are getting at market."
Last week, Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, announced an urgent review of British agriculture and confirmed that he was asking the European Commission to subsidise the freezing of freshly slaughtered meat to keep it off the market.
Ministers are considering paying farmers aged 55 and over up to pounds 40,000 to retire from the industry. They are also looking at ways to ease the financial hardship of some growers.
But farmers whose cheques bounce will be refused passports for their cattle and credit will not be given. This will prevent the most hard-hit farmers from moving their cattle or selling them for meat.
Abattoirs, already affected by new European Union hygiene rules, will also have to pay a pounds 2m annual bill for the inspection of cattle passports and of ear-tags for slaughtered cattle by the meat hygiene service. Under rules agreed with the EU to allow exports of British beef, each animal must have a fully accountable history, recorded on an individual passport.
Cattle tracing had previously been paid for by the Government, but it believes that the livestock industry, the main beneficiary of the passport scheme, should now foot the bill.Reuse content