Britain is to introduce tough new rules on animal identification after it was discovered that some farmers were illegally swapping tags from TB-infected cattle to healthy animals.
The fraud involved farmers sending less productive and lower value animals for slaughter and keeping the TB-infected animals in their herds.
The TB tagging scam was uncovered during an investigation by Gloucestershire Trading Standards, which reviewed TB cattle sent to two slaughterhouses in the south west of England and the Midlands.
It is understood that prosecutions are pending, while other cases are still being investigated. If convicted, the farmers face fines of up to £5,000 (€5,665) and six months' imprisonment for failing to prevent the spread of TB, or 10 years' jail and unlimited fines for fraud.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced that to prevent this happening again, from mid-April cattle testing positive for TB will immediately be tagged. A sample of its DNA will then be retained for random crosschecks against the DNA of animals sent to slaughter where fraud is suspected.
British Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said the behaviour of the "very small minority of farmers" involved in the scam was totally unacceptable and appalling.
Meanwhile, Department of Agriculture officials here have insisted that the type of tag and comprehensive checks in place in the Republic of Ireland would prevent any such scam operating here.
"This Department places a strong reliance on security, tamper resistance and tamper evidence properties in the selection of tags suitable for use in the cattle population in Ireland," said a spokesman for the Department.
"Any irregularities in the area of cattle identification and suspected tag switching are fully investigated by this Department and in particular by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU)," he added.
"We have no evidence that there is any TB reactor substitution taking place in Ireland and we are satisfied that any such practice would be identified in the comprehensive checks and procedures, including a reactor collection service which is managed and funded by the Department," said the official.