The consultation document outlines two main changes to the governance and funding of animal health policy, in line with recommendations made by Sir Iain Anderson, following his inquiry into the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001.
Firstly, Defra proposes to establish an independent board to make decisions about animal health policy and deliver any necessary action.
The board would consist of members with knowledge, experience and skills in the livestock animal health science and welfare and relevant public health, consumer and wildlife issues. In a disease outbreak, key decisions such as movement controls would be made by the chair and chief executive of the new board, on the advice of the UK’s chief veterinary officer.
Secondly, Defra plans to impose a levy to raise funds from livestock keepers, which will be used to contribute towards the cost of dealing with disease outbreaks, and perhaps even a mandatory insurance scheme to ensure livestock farmers are insured for a share of the cost of animal disease outbreaks.
Defra claims that the plans, if accepted, would 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.
Launching the consultation, secretary of state Hilary Benn said: “Livestock owners are the worst-affected by disease outbreaks, and they are also beneficiaries 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.”
Farmers have reacted angrily to the proposals, however, with NFU president Peter Kendall accusing the government of seeking to “pile on the agony” for British farmers.
Stressing that the government should do more to prevent animal diseases from entering the UK in the first place, Kendall pointed out that the last foot-and-mouth outbreak came from government facilities and said he has “little confidence” in Defra’s management of the Animal Health budget.
Following the conclusion of the consultation on June 30 2009, Defra will prepare a draft bill for consultation and scrutiny. Any fundamental changes will require primary legislation and are unlikely to come into effect before 2012.