Government proposals to introduce an independent body for animal health in England have been branded as “seriously premature” by the Tenant Farmers Association.

In a formal response to the draft Animal Health Bill, the TFA said a working group set up to look at how an independent body might be formed was a long way from producing its interim findings, let alone any final conclusions.

Speaking as the consultation period for the draft bill draws to a close, George Dunn, TFA chief executive, said the government had used “indecent haste” in drawing the plans together in a bid to force farming to pay for disease.

“It’s madness that the government should appoint a working group of experts to advise it on how to proceed and then within weeks of its establishment produce its own blueprint for the way ahead as if the working group did not exist,” he said.

“It is also inappropriate that such a controversial measure should be proposed in a draft Bill form so close to a General Election.”

Mr Dunn said the TFA was worried the Bill’s only concern was to pass liability for animal disease control on to the industry.

“The TFA believes that it is wholly inappropriate that the government should be requiring the industry to underwrite the government’s risk,” he added.

“The whole ethos of the Government’s policy in this area has switched from the widely accepted and reasonable premise of ‘polluter pays’ towards the inapt philosophy in this case of ‘user pays’.

“We will not tolerate a policy which, in effect, requires the industry to provide the government with an open cheque-book to underwrite the government’s own shortcomings in managing animal health and welfare issues.”

The consultation period for the draft Bill is open until 19 April.