DEFRA has come under fire from all sides of the poultry sector over its proposals for a new independent body on animal health.

The NFU, British Egg Industry Council,British Poultry Council and British Veterinary Association have voiced concerns over the proposals put forward in DEFRA’s consultation document on responsibility and cost sharing.

The new body would take over DEFRA’s responsibility for animal health matters and be at least partly funded by the farming industry, while welfare policy would remain in the hand of ministers.

All the bodies are agreed that health and welfare should not be separated, and are either opposed to or express reservations about the cost-sharing plans.

The NFU supports the idea of a separate body, saying that a new approach to animal health is needed and is most likely to be achieved with such a strategy.

But the NFU continues “This is dependent on the body having the scope to cover both animal health and welfare policy, and having a structure that ensures the industry has a genuine say.”

The NFU adds: “We remain fundamentally opposed to sharing government costs on exotic disease surveillance and preparedness. The benefits of healthy farm animals are far reaching, and we believe that the government should continue to fund this activity as a public good.”

The BVA comments: “The welfare of animals is inextricably linked to their health, and the BVA does not support DEFRA’s proposal to separate the two. Any new body responsible for animal health must also be responsible for animal welfare.”

It also expressed “deep concerns” over the confusion caused by the new structure that could lead to delays in dealing with outbreaks of disease across the UK.

On funding, the BVA says the government must continue to seek to improve animal health and welfare, and maintain its financial commitment to disease control.

“In a new partnership arrangement, the costs of disease control must not simply be transferred to the industry. Any cost-sharing arrangements must also provide industry with an incentive for action to improve their practice and reward those that achieve good animal health and welfare outcomes, and penalise those that refuse to adopt industry accepted norms.

The BPC opposes the new body entirely, saying: “There is no evidence of any benefits accruing to justify the proposed establishment of a new independent body for animal health.

“There is no reason to suppose that greater public awareness, greater farmer awareness, greater compliance, or better biosecurity and improved farm practices will result from a new body. Nor can it be shown that decision making will be better informed, more balanced and more cost aware, than it would be under an enhanced sector/government core partnership approach,” said BPC chief executive Peter Bradnock.

Mark Williams of the BEIC said: “We reject the proposal to place a levy on livestock producers for part-funding DEFRA’s exotic disease surveillance and preparedness budget, and believe that funding should come from general government taxation.

He also rejected the idea that producers should insure against exotic disease incursions, as these were outside of their conrtol.