DEFRA has been told by a powerful parliamentary committee that it needs to take further steps to control the costs of a future foot-and-mouth outbreak.

The Public Accounts Committee has said it is concerned that in the event of another outbreak, valuations for pedigree and high value stock would continue to rely on the judgement of a valuer.

In a report published on Tuesday (1 November), the committee acknowledged that the department had tightened controls over the payment of compensation.

But it added: “For non-standard and pedigree animals, however, the department still relies on professional valuations, even though experience from 2001 suggests some valuations were two to three times the underlying worth of the animal.

“The department should seek to substantiate such valuations by reference to other relevant data; for example, original purchase price or values for similar animals in different parts of the country.

“It should challenge, and expect the farmers or valuer to justify, any unusual movements.”

The committee said it would also like to see DEFRA implementing a levy scheme so part or all of the cost of future outbreaks could be passed from the taxpayer to farmers.

“The department should make quick progress on consultation on such a scheme, and should resolve quickly the question of transferring to the industry the costs of secondary disinfection of farms.”

The report suggested that if a levy scheme was introduced, the amount of levy paid by a farmer could be linked to standards of biosecurity on the farm.

It also said good biosecurity should be encouraged through effective deterrents for those farmers who failed to meet minimum standards.

“The department should… consider whether it would be appropriate to ask the Sentencing Advisory Council to frame a sentencing guideline on breaches of farm biosecurity.”

The Farmers Union of Wales blasted the idea of a levy, claiming that the government was to blame for the 2001 foot-and-mouth
epidemic.

“The simple fact is that it occurred because of inaction and lack of investment in stopping the importation of diseased meat,” said Gareth Vaughan, the union’s president.

“The truth is that foot-and-mouth also spread so rapidly in 2001 because the government failed to act quickly enough to halt animal movements across the country.

“It would be grossly unfair for a levy to be imposed on farmers to make up for the government’s own shortcomings.”

isabel.davies@rbi.co.uk