Livestock producers call on DEFRA to shelve disease cost-sharing plan

A coalition of UK livestock farming organisations is calling on the government to reconsider its plans to transfer much of the cost of dealing with animal disease outbreaks to livestock farmers still reeling from the impact of this autumn’s foot-and-mouth and bluetongue crises.

In a public statement the farming organisations say that:

  • The government’s timing is wrong
  • Costs must be minimised before there is any question of sharing them
  • Joint responsibility for animal disease policy must be established before costs are shared.

The statement points out that the cost to the livestock sectors of this autumn’s animal disease outbreaks – caused in part by a leak from a government-regulated research facility – is at least £100m.

In addition, the entire sector is suffering from rocketing feed and energy costs, to which prices have yet to adjust.

“To suggest, against that background, that the industry should be picking up additional costs from government is divorced from reality,” the statement says.

“If and when we become involved in detailed discussions on cost-sharing, the first step must be to ensure that this work is managed as efficiently as possible so as to minimise the cost, both to industry and government.

“An essential pre-condition for any constructive engagement is a firm assurance that the industry will be given genuine responsibility for the development and delivery of animal health policy and the way animal disease outbreaks are handled as a quid pro quo for the sharing of costs.”

DEFRA has indicated that it intends to start consulting on its proposals for cost sharing before Christmas. It is looking to raise around £40m from farmers, probably in the form of a levy.

The farming organisations say this is too hasty, and are asking for a meeting with DEFRA secretary Hilary Benn.

“There can be no deal on animal health cost sharing proposals unless farmers are given a proper input into animal health policy making,” said Ulster Farmers Union president Kenneth Sharkey.