Plans for Independent Animal Health Body

UK - Decisions about how to handle animal diseases would move to an independent body under proposals announced for consultation by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn.
calendar icon 31 March 2009
clock icon 6 minute read

Mr Benn said the proposals would see a new independent board established to make decisions about animal health policy and delivery, made up of members with knowledge, experience and skills in the livestock industry, animal health science and welfare and relevant public health, consumer and wildlife issues.

In a disease outbreak, key decisions such as movement controls will be made by the Chair and Chief Executive of the new organisation, on the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer.

Mr Benn said: "Livestock owners are worst affected by disease outbreaks, and they also benefit from disease control, where their livestock might otherwise become infected.

"It's right that they should be more involved in making decisions about how we prevent and handle those diseases, and contribute to the costs of collective action to tackle disease threats.

"This new way of tackling animal disease, which builds on how Government and the industry have worked together to deal with bluetongue, will mean that everyon's investment in disease control is more effectively and efficiently used. We should see a reduction in the total levels and costs of these diseases."

The plans will help to reduce the risks and costs of animal disease, improve confidence in animal health policies, and ensure the livestock keepers who benefit from animal disease control measures share the costs of those measures with taxpayers.

The new body will be responsible for dealing with exotic disease outbreaks such as bluetongue, policy on endemic diseases such as bovine TB, advising on the payment rates for animals culled as part of disease control and controlling animal diseases which pose a threat to public health.

The new body would be largely publicly funded, with a levy on livestock keepers contributing to the costs of surveillance and preparedness for exotic disease outbreaks. Views are also being sought on compulsory insurance for livestock keepers to contribute to the cost of dealing with exotic disease outbreaks.

The proposals are in line with recommendations made by Sir Iain Anderson after his inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 that those who gain from the eradication of these disease should help to pay the costs of doing so.

The new body would have three main sources of funding: public funding, fees and charges for services provided, and income from a new levy paid by livestock farmers, according to the type and number of animals they keep.

The Government currently spends £400 million each year on animal health and welfare, which increases substantially when there are disease outbreaks such as avian influenza.

The cost to the farming industry is also considerable, but currently the industry has no decision-making powers over these policies and does not contribute directly to the cost of co-ordinating disease control.

Under today’s proposals, these costs would be shared between different types of livestock keeping businesses and between the beneficiaries of the successful reduction of risks and costs – particularly between taxpayers and livestock keepers, taking account of affordability.

The consultation responds to calls from the livestock industry to change the way the Government makes decisions about animal health policy.

The new framework will build on the strengths of the current system including the effective protection of public health, the developing partnership working with industry, the veterinary and scientific expertise of Defra and its agencies, and the delivery capability of Animal Health.

However, the news has hit a raw note with Britain's farmers.

NAtional Farmers' Union President Peter Kendall said: "I am furious that Defra is still trying to get farmers to contribute to their costs when the department doesn't have a good enough handle on its own costs. It wants us to pay for exotic disease but we don’t think they do enough to keep these diseases out of the country.

"I have little confidence in Defra’s effective and efficient management of the current Animal Health Budget and the recent NAO report backs our view. It was very critical of Defra and said that its current procedures could not deliver a 'fair and equitable cost sharing scheme'. We have to remember that the costs we are being asked to cover relate to diseases that are not in this country and I do not think Defra treats the incursion of these diseases very seriously at all and nowhere near as seriously as other governments in places like the US, Australia and New Zealand.

"On top of this we have the 2007 FMD outbreak which clearly came from a Government licensed premises. I find it incredible that ministers can suggest that, in future, livestock farmers should pay half of the Government costs for an incident like this. The failure at these premises cost the livestock sector over £100 million which the industry itself had to cover and they now have the gall to suggest that we should pay 50 per cent of their costs (est. £40 million) as well.

"Farmers will be dismayed by these proposals and they have little confidence in Defra on animal health issues. We have bovine TB reaching epidemic proportions in some parts of the country, wiping out more than 30,000 cattle last year alone, and costing the industry millions. Meanwhile, Defra pins all its hopes on a vaccine which, while being a tool in the box for TB eradication, will never do the job on its own and all the while our farming families wait in despair."

The consultation also proposes that a new independent body for animal health should be established.

Mr Kendall added: "I believe that a new independent body for animal health could deliver a more proportionate and effective animal health policy. However, it must be a genuine partnership between livestock farmers and the Government and must have real powers and be able to deal with the European Commission on animal health issues.

"Under the joint Government and industry governance I believe that an independent body should deliver better value for money for the tax payer and for livestock farmers. Furthermore, it should enhance the position of the wider industry, food retailers and food manufacturers, who all benefit from keeping this country free from animal disease."

Further Reading

- You can view the details of the proposal by clicking here.
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