Livestock producers deserve to be confused and extremely angry. You’re being asked to pay for something over which you have no control - exotic diseases currently not originating in this country. And there’s a wealth of other measures coming in to overhaul animal health and welfare, which are a minefield to get your head around.
The NFU and other industry bodies are is rightly spitting blood over the latest DEFRA consultation on responsibility and cost sharing. It is a complex set of arrangements that aims to cut and share the cost of animal disease, improve prevention and management and build industry confidence in coping with the risks. The aims are sound, it’s the method of achieving them that is of concern.
A new independent body for animal health policy and delivery is a positive move if it enables the livestock sector to determine its own future and is truly independent. The new body could have real power if it takes over DEFRA’s funding of disease management and is run by people with a real understanding but politics needs to be taken out of the decision-making.
The idea of farmers paying an annual levy for research and surveillance of diseases, many of which are not of their making, will be hard to swallow as will the bureaucracy that comes with it. Mandatory insurance to cover unbudgeted disease costs will be even more difficult. Farmers will rail against it and as yet there’s little infrastructure to support it. Asking an insurance company to insure a business against a disease such as foot and mouth is akin to seeking buildings insurance after your home has collapsed.
These represent the most significant changes to hit the sector in years and many will be wondering whether they can survive it. There is no doubt that animal health policies need modernising. The current set up fails farmers, government and consumers because, at times, there is a serious breakdown in trust and a lack of rigour in implementation. A new strategy and vision is needed.
But why should the livestock sector foot the bill when Government is not doing enough to stop diseases coming into our borders? It cannot even guarantee safety from its own licensed laboratories as we know to our cost with the 2007 foot and mouth outbreak. The final straw continues to be its failure to tackle bovine TB effectively.
Taking responsibility is something farmers do naturally but that does not mean we get it right everyday. Biosecurity is still inadequate on many farms and a proactive approach to herd health planning is not widespread.. Remember the terrible risks taken by those who refused to participate in the bluetongue vaccination programme.
A new partnership is long overdue between Government and industry but it looks further away by the day. Forcing yet more costs on farmers that are all too frequently caused by inefficiencies by others is not a good starting point.
Let us know what you think about the changes by responding to this blog or going to www.fwi.co.uk/costsharing
Full reports from the FW team available at www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/2009/03/30/114952/disease-cost-and-responsibility-sharing.htm