Health strategy in jeopardy?

THE LIVESTOCK industry has warned that DEFRA‘s 10-year Animal Health and Welfare Strategy may be undermined by farmers, angry at a lack of action on bovine TB.

The strategy, described by DEFRA as all-inclusive, comprehensive and long-term, was launched by junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw and chief vet Debby Reynolds on Thursday (June 24).

The document took 18 months to prepare and outlines what are considered to be the government‘s animal health and welfare responsibilities and the responsibilities of producers.

The strategy makes it clear that it is still the government‘s intention that farmers should bear more financial responsibility for animal disease risks.

This will probably involve farmers taking out insurance or paying a levy so the cost of disease outbreaks can be shared.

But it also asks producers to work in partnership with the government and to improve their animals‘ health by trying farm health planning.

This will involve getting a vet to draw up a health plan for an individual farm so problematic diseases can be tackled.

Diana Linskey, head of the AHWS team at DEFRA, said some of the health plans drawn up for assurance schemes involved nothing more than a tick in a box.

The government wanted to show farmers that they were making significant losses because of endemic disease such as digital dermatitis.

“If they get a grip on livestock disease then farmers are going to make more money,” she said.

John Thorley, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said he farmers would take the ideas on board if they could see it made good economic sense.

“If farmers can see a clear economic benefit they will go for it. But there has to be a return.”

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, said the message that disease was costing farmers‘ money was important and the overall premise of the strategy was good.

But he warned that farmers in some regions would be sceptical about it because of ongoing TB problems.

National Farmers Union animal health and welfare spokesman Neil Cutler agreed that this was a key problem facing the government.

Farmers would also be sceptical about getting involved because of the cost-sharing ideas, he warned.

But he added: “It is a start and I think the culture is starting to change in DEFRA. It establishes the principles of animal health and welfare.”