Hailsham ‘Moo Man’ dairy farmer calls for help amid ‘crippling’ situation
A family-run organic dairy farm, which was the centre of an internationally recognised documentary, is facing closure due to government regulations.
Stephen Hook of Hook and Son, one of the biggest raw milk sellers in the UK, says because of an “inconclusive” test his business’ Tuberculosis (TB) status has been removed and he can no longer sell it.
“We are being driven against the wall by the government,” said Stephen, “We have got a lot of bills to pay, we are really struggling.”
Started by his father Phil, the business is a small grass-fed herd on the Pevensey Levels which was the star of The Mooman – a documentary described as both “heartwarming” and “heartbreaking” and made an official selection for the Sundance Film Festival.
But Hook and Son was delivered a crippling blow last year when one cow was found to be “inconclusive” in a test for TB.
Since, the farm has had seven herd skin tests and two blood tests by the government, resulting in 31 animals of their 80-animal herd – including calves and pregnant cows – being killed. Despite all these tests, no sign of TB has been found, Stephen said.
“It is a crippling situation not of our own making,” the 53-year-old said, “We have no control over this TB situation at all. We are at the mercy of the APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) and current TB law and TB skin test which I don’t believe is fit for purpose.
“The government can’t prove that we have got TB. They haven’t found a strain. We have lost an awful lot of money. We were selling 3,500 pints a month. It had to stop overnight.”
Stephen’s family has been farming for generations, dating back to the 1700s. He said, “We are a strong Sussex farming family, the only dairy herd left in the parish.
“With Brexit, the government should be looking after our own food producers. What’s really frustrating is that there’s a company which provides a test which detects the presence of TB whish is far more direct. The government is dragging its feet on using it. They are not using common sense to our situation.”
They have to wait another 60 days for the inconclusive cow to be re-tested. In the meantime, his livelihood is suffering and he is having to rely on producing pasteurised milk.
They are asking for the public’s support to get them through a difficult time. An online fundraiser has so far raised more than £26,000 for the farm.
Stephen said he was thankful to all those who donated, “The local support is really great. People love our milk. Every pound counts for us at the moment. It helps make a difference. The words of support for what we do are equally priceless to us, it’s that pat on the back which is quite rare these days.”
A Defra spokesperson said, “Bovine TB remains one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK, causing devastation for hard-working farmers and rural communities.
“Our strategy to tackle bTB includes one of the most rigorous testing and surveillance programmes for the disease in cattle in the world, using the best available tests.”
Hook and Son has been producing raw milk since 2007, and is described as a leader in the industry. Raw milk is argued to be healthier than pasteurised milk and could help fight allergies such as hay fever.
To view the documentary The Moo Man, visit www.the-mooman.co.uk