Cattle farmers have welcomed tougher regulations to reduce the risk of bovine TB spreading.

East Sussex is one of ten counties which will see annual testing by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) from yesterday.

The county is seen as an area at greatest risk from the spread of TB “in the short to medium term”, having had an outbreak of the virus in April last year near Lewes.

Tighter controls came into effect on January 1 and included changes to cattle movement.

Steve Hook, a dairy farmer in Hailsham who sells unpasteurised milk, welcomed the move.

He said: “In the last five years our business has grown a lot, and now we employ six full- time staff and eight part- time staff.

“Should we get bovine TB, all those jobs would be gone. “Every year when we have TB tests on the farm, more and more is hanging on it.

“Anything that can be done to halt the spread is a good thing. It only takes one irresponsible character even if the animals show no signs of illness.”

Farmers worried about the changes are being invited to attend a meeting in Uckfield explaining it. Speakers from the AHVLA (Animal Health and Veterinary LaboratoriesAgency), the NFU and East Sussex Trading Standards will outline the tighter cattle movement controls.

There will also be representatives from livestock markets and local vets.

James Osman, county adviser for the NFU in East Sussex, says: “From now on, all cattle across East Sussex must be tested annually for bTB and any cattle being sold will have to undergo a pre-movement test, with a few exemptions for cattle going direct to slaughter.

“Farmers will undoubtedly face a large cost burden as a result of these changes.

“However, we hope to clear up any confusion about this new regime, to help people minimise the impact on their businesses and we’ll also highlight options that might help them now and in the future.”

Farmers and graziers who wish to attend should call NFU South East on 01730 711950, citing their NFU membership number or a farm name and postcode, to receive details of the venue and start time.