DEFRA unveils draft Animal Health Bill

DEFRA has shelved plans to make livestock farmers take out insurance to help foot the bill for future disease outbreaks.

The option was included in responsibility and cost sharing proposals put to the industry in April 2009 but it does not feature in DEFRA’s draft Animal Health Bill, published on Monday (25 January).

A DEFRA spokesman said discussions with industry and insurers had shown that the insurance option would have been “unworkable”.

But the Bill does include plans to cut compensation payments to farmers who fail to take adequate disease prevention measures.

“There will be express provisions to reduce the level of payment where a person has contributed to the spread of the disease or breached regulations relating to the disease,” a DEFRA statement said.

“Many customers and stakeholders wanted a fairer system, which encouraged good behaviour and rewarded those who improved disease control on their units,” it added.

A DEFRA spokesman said reducing payments to those who broke the rules and contributed to spreading disease was a fairer system.

“Compensation payments will only be reduced if the keeper has acted inappropriately – for example, by not maintaining good levels of biosecurity or ignoring animal movement restrictions,” he added.

Also included in the draft Bill is the establishment of a new non-departmental public body which will be known as the Animal Health Organisation.

The organisation will take responsibility for animal health policy and delivery in England, though not welfare which would remain with the department.

The AHO will:

– Assess disease risks and developing plans to tackle them

– Undertake and commissioning research

– Develop policy, on its own initiative or at the request of Defra’s Secretary of State

– Propose secondary legislation

– Provide advice and training

– Publish and disseminate information

– Provide financial assistance

– Provide services of its employees to others

The draft Bill will also change legislation on vaccination.

“The draft Bill will amend existing legislation to broaden the circumstances under which the AHO or Welsh Ministers could order the vaccination of animals,” the DEFRA official said.

“It will broaden the powers in England and Wales to take samples from animals or premises for disease surveillance purposes and to conduct additional tests on samples for any disease, with no need for further consent from the keeper,” he added.

The animal health levy, also mooted in the cost sharing proposals last spring, has not gone away. The aim of raising £22m from farmers to pay half the bill for disease outbreaks will be included separately in the Future Finances Bill.