A joint industry and government report has concluded that a compulsory producer levy would be the best way to fund the cost of tackling a future outbreak of an exotic animal disease.

The cost sharing report said it was unlikely to be introduced before 2009 because of the need for two consultations and new legislation and it did not say at what rate or on what basis the levy should be collected.

But industry commentators believe that a levy would be applied on a headage basis with varying rates specific to each livestock sector.

The report considers sharing the cost in a number of ways. Insurance – both compulsory and voluntarily – is deemed to be too expensive.

The prospect of raising funds retrospectively, while offering the option of knowing the exact cost to the industry and, therefore, the amount of money needed to be raised, would not encourage farmers to implement other risk-reducing measures, such as improvements in biosecurity, in a way that a prospective levy would.

If called upon the fund would be used to help finance the direct costs of eradicating an enzootic disease such as foot-and-mouth or avian influenza.

But it would not pay compensation to those who suffer consequential losses, for example, those affected by movement restrictions.

As yet, however, DEFRA has “no immediate plans” to extend the principle of cost sharing to endemic disease such as bovine tuberculosis, unless the EU makes it a requirement.

However, it is the government’s slow progress on TB that drew a cautious response to the report and its recommendations from NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond.

“This could be an opportunity to build a meaningful, long-term relationship with government, but that can only be on the basis of a genuine partnership covering all areas of decision-making” said Mr Raymond

He added: “We are not in the business of effectively writing the government a blank cheque that it can use to pay for the consequences of inadequate disease safeguards.

Nor are we in any way encouraged by their refusal, so far, to deal effectively with bovine TB.

A partnership approach to this disease has been conspicuous only by its absence.”

NFU Scotland followed a similar tone saying government must first meet its own obligations to control disease before it can expect to pass costs on to the industry.  NFUS points to a report last year from the National Audit Office that estimated 98% of illegal meat imports escape detection.

Read Sharing the Responsibilities and Costs of Animal Disease report at
http://www.defra.gov.uk/farm/policy/regulation/csharead/jigwg/report01/index.htm