DEFRA’s plans to establish a non-departmental public body as outlined in the draft Animal Health Bill has received mixed reaction from farming organisations, with many deeply opposed to such plans.

National Sheep Association

The National Sheep Association compares DEFRA‘s approach to that of a bulldozer, saying the introduction of the new Bill will leave sheep farmers confused, sceptical and mistrustful of the government body.

The organisation suggests such a Bill could be a setback for the industry stating “Its arrival comes at a time when a DEFRA-instigated group is starting to get its teeth into many of the issues connected to the further sharing of responsibility and costs for animal health.”

The NSA strongly believes DEFRA can save money and improve its effectiveness by taking forward improved sharing of responsibility with industry on such matters.

But despite the NSA initially being supportive when DEFRA established the cost and responsibility sharing group chaired by Rosemary Radcliffe, chief executive Peter Morris said he was opposed to the new plans.

Mr Morris added “after the announcement of this Bill it must seem to sheep farmers the emerging work of this group is being given no credence and that the way forward is already established no matter what is said. The NSA maintains its criticism of DEFRA for their bulldozer approach and lack of respect for the work of others.”

Tenant Farmers’ Association

Also critical of the draft Bill was the Tenant Farmers Association who were bemused by the fact a working group, which was set up to advise on how such a body should be created, was still months away from delivering its report.

TFA national chairman Greg Bliss said “This is not the first time the Government has jumped the gun in this area of policy. Now the Government appears to be trying to second-guess what the working group will propose when it is still in the very early stages of its deliberations”.

Mr Bliss believed the new body wasn’t being set up for the benefit of animal health, but instead “about the Government’s desire to pass Exchequer costs onto the industry”.

“I simply cannot see how an independent body will improve the delivery of animal health policy,” he said. “It would not have stopped the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease which was caused by infected imports, or the 2007 outbreak which was caused by a leak from a government laboratory and it will do little to improve the bovine TB situation,” said Mr Bliss.

Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers

RABDF took a more positive approach, saying the Bill was a step in the right direction for animal health policy in England and Wales, although it did call for further details to be resolved before backing the proposal completely.

“The draft Bill is just that; it merely outlines the general purpose of the new Animal Health Organisation and does not go into specific details,” commented RABDF chairman Lyndon Edwards. He believed the idea of biosecurity levels being linked to compensation was a sensible approach to achieving a healthy livestock population.

Mr Edwards also supported the idea that the Bill would abandon its proposals for insurance premiums, but did oppose the introduction of individual animal levies. He also said it was important the funding mechanisms did not negatively impact on farmers, particularly given the facts maximising biosecurity will be a cost in itself.

“He adds: “Until we receive more details on DEFRA’s proposals for responsibility and cost sharing, and in particular the funding and scope of the AHO body, then the jury remains out.”