DEFRA moved a step closer this week to its long term aim of sharing the cost of a future animal disease outbreak with the industry, with the launch of a consultation on the principles of cost sharing.

Presented on Monday (11 December) the consultation seeks to “help shape future policy on the sharing of responsibilities and costs”, but the proposals have been universally criticised by the NFU, NFU Scotland and the Ulster Farmers Union

All parties have told DEFRA that it must demonstrate a genuine willingness to work in partnership with the industry to tackle some of the issues currently facing farmers before they can be expected to shoulder some of the costs.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: “This consultation exercise must bring about a real and genuine discussion about how farmers and DEFRA can work towards a partnership approach to animal health and welfare policy.”

“Farmers are aware of the importance of keeping their animals healthy and free from disease so it is clearly in our interest to have a much greater say in how animal health and welfare policy is developed and implemented.”

“We must have more say over our destiny, and more control over the policies that affect us. We are not prepared to just sit back and allow government to impose its costs on the industry.”

Mr Kendall also warned DEFRA that its commitment to this partnership will be judged on whether it is prepared to work with the industry in a determined manner to tackle the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

Parallel consultations have been launched in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

NFUS stressed that the industry already absorbs a great deal of cost associated with disease protection, and is concerned that the real catalyst for the consultation is pressure from the Treasury to cut DEFRA spending, rather than a genuine desire to forge a partnership with industry.

NFUS chief executive Andy Robertson, who has been in London for discussions on the subject with DEFRA, devolved administrations and colleagues from the other UK Unions, said: “We have no problem accepting our responsibility for disease protection – indeed there are many areas where we already do just that – but the industry simply can’t afford to be on the receiving end of a cost-cutting exercise.

Ulster Farmers Union president Kenneth Sharkey said:  “We have already told DEFRA and the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development that farmers will not consider proposals for animal health cost sharing, when the government is not practising an effective disease prevention and control policy.”

The consultation will close on the 12 March, 2007
* It can be found at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/ahws/sharing/index.htm