Poultry leaders raise questions over disease cost sharing proposal

The government is determined to press ahead with plans to make producers share the cost of dealing with animal disease outbreaks, but poultry industry leaders have raised questions over the need for a new official body to oversee animal health.

DEFRA is reported to be in favour of the German system, which could see producers having to join an annual fee-based livestock/bird registration scheme to establish a fighting fund to help pay for disease outbreaks.

“DEFRA is proposing to consult on specific proposals later this autumn as part of the wider responsibility and cost-sharing agenda,” said a department spokesman.

Plans to establish an independent statutory body for animal health are also being drawn up.

But in a joint letter sent last month to DEFRA minister Hilary Benn, the British Poultry Council chairman Ted Wright and British Egg industry Council chairman Andrew Parker stressed that there is no need for this statutory body.

“We believe that there is no proven need for animal health and welfare policy to be removed from ministerial responsibility and passed to a new non-ministerial department or non-departmental public body.

“Carving off this policy area from DEFRA will inevitably damage the benefits of the existing integrated approach, leading to more fragmentation and less coherent policy.

Both the BPC and BEIC strongly favour development of the full partnership approach, as they believe an independent body would make decision making much more convoluted and add costs.

“We think the current system, by and large, is working well and should not be jettisoned so readily.”

On cost sharing, Messers Wright and Parker stressed that they were against a levy. “The overall cost of recent avian flu outbreaks to the public purse has been very small in comparison with other livestock sector diseases.

“We believe that these costs can be reduced by greater use of company resources in the management of an outbreak and ultimately through prevention.”

And if a levy is to be implemented, it should not just apply to England. “UK poultry companies operate across the whole of the UK.”

Another worrying aspect of the proposed levy is the registration approach. “We are very concerned that a registration approach would have a potentially perverse impact on disease control, as well as unnecessarily high administration costs compared with other more efficient mechanisms.”

Unlike some other sectors, the GB Poultry Register already exists. “We would not wish to see poultry-keepers deterred by a levy from registering or from re-registering and thereby lessening the value of the register for disease control purposes.”

• The NFU is one of 10 industry bodies which pulled out of negotiations over DEFRA’s contreversial decision not to go ahead with a TB badger cull.