A Stand Against Defra's Animal Health Organisation

UK - The National Beef Association has joined with the Tenant Farmers Association, Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, British Egg Industry Council, British Poultry Council, Livestock Auctioneers Association and the Game Farmers Association to make clear their outright opposition to Defra’s flawed proposals to establish a new, independent, levy funded, body to take over animal health operations in England from government.
calendar icon 19 June 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

A letter signed by all the organisations, which completely rejects the government’s new approach to disease control in the plainest possible terms, was sent to the Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, at the end of last week.

It is hoped the initiative will soon be supported by other organisations prompted by their members whose instincts also say Defra’s dangerous new idea must be dumped.

“The Defra proposals are an ill-advised kneejerk reaction to the cost it faced during the 2001 FMD outbreak and are already almost nine years out of date,” explained NBA director, Kim Haywood.

“It has ignored the relative success of the joint industry-government Core Stakeholder Groups, which protected livestock farmers from even greater hardship during the 2007 FMD outbreak, and then helped to ensure there were no new internal outbreaks of Bluetongue in England during 2008, but cost farmers nothing to run.”

“And prefers instead to hoist either a distant, non-ministerial, Food Standards Agency style disease control board, whose funds would be directly controlled by HM Treasury and therefore be very likely to be quickly reduced and replaced by huge rises in compulsory levy.”

“Or impose an AHDB style independent quango whose chairman would be invisible to the industry, and over whose policies farmers would have little control, which would require hefty levy funding too.”

“Mr Benn was told that improved animal health would be best delivered through refinements to the existing core stakeholder system which allows continued close dialogue with his office, as well as the Chief Vet, and prevents there being potentially dangerous organisational confusion in the event of a disease based national emergency.”

“In addition to this the NBA has made it clear that Defra’s animal disease departments can reduce their cost, and eliminate the need for a levy, if they open their books to a full, independent, financial audit conducted by specialists who also take practical advice from farmers on exactly where huge sums of money are being routinely wasted and important cost saving can easily be made.”

“For example in 2006-2007 Defra’s total expenditure on endemic and exotic animal disease control was in the region of £400 million. Of this anti-BSE controls accounted for around £200 million but this has since reduced to around £70 million a year as a result of government giving up carcase disposals at around £250 a head and handing it over to the private sector which was able to cover its residual costs by charging farmers only £82 a head.”

“This relatively simple exercise produced an overall saving of £130 million a year, or 65-70 per cent, and after talking to its members the Association is certain that equally dramatic savings can be made by modifying the transport system for TB reactors and other neglected logistical areas – all of which makes it pretty obvious there is absolutely no need for any livestock farmer to be hit with an unwelcome levy,” Ms Haywood added.

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