The number of dairy farms suspected of fiddling the books about the age of the cows they have, has soared to 2,100, farm minister Carola Schouten told MPs on Thursday.
By passing older calves off as younger animals, farmers can get round strict rules on manure and phosphate reduction. Adult cows are more polluting, so farmers are claiming that their cows have given birth to twins or triplets, hiding the true ages of some calves.
The fraud first came to light last month, when ministry inspectors found fraud in the registration of calves on half the 93 farms they visited within a week.
Since then, the inspectors have been comparing different registration systems and have found possible fraud on 2,100 farms.
‘I consider the scale of the fraud extremely concerning,’ Schouten told MPs in a briefing. ‘We have to prevent farms which stick to the rules being disadvantaged by those that fiddle their books.’
The affected farms have been banned from selling or buying new cattle until their administration has been approved. Farmers found to have lied about the ages of their animals face a reduction in subsidies or criminal prosecution.
At the end of last year, the NRC revealed that farmers are also committing fraud on a wide scale when it comes to manure. Farmers are forging their accounts, illegally trading their manure or dumping more on their land than permitted by law, while transport companies are fiddling lorry weights and making unrecorded trips to dump manure at night, the paper said.
In total, the NRC found that 36 of the 56 manure processing and distribution companies in the two regions had been fined for fraud, or suspected of fraud, in what the paper calls the ‘manure conspiracy’.