Poultry industry calls for cost-sharing rethink

The poultry Sector believes DEFRA is moving far too quickly in relation to its disease cost sharing initiative.

Last month, DEFRA launched a consultation which examines how funding could be shared between the government and the whole of the industry for future disease outbreaks, like avian flu and foot-and-mouth.

Responding to the proposals, Peter Bradnock chief executive of The British Poultry Council (BPC) told Poultry World that the poultry sector cannot afford cost sharing.

“If DEFRA continues to force the issue we can only assume that they want to force their costs onto us.”

In that case, he believes “there are areas where we can develop responsible aspects before we get to that stage, in a smaller and more modest approach. It also depends on what we are being asked to share. We believe that sharing the responsibility will help to reduce the cost.”

Moving onto the consultation document, he said that it was unfortunate in that it includes a proposal against TSE (scrapie and BSE), which are existing programmes that DEFRA pays for and are outside of the principles of industry responsibility. “A lot of the proposal doesn’t define what cost sharing will be.”

BPC is part of a coalition of 27 UK livestock organisations, including the British Egg Industry Council, that has criticised the government saying its timing is wrong.

“The entire sector is still suffering from rocketing feed prices and high energy costs, to which prices have yet to adjust,” said the coalition.

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

“If the government is determined to upload some of it’s spending on animal health and welfare onto the industry, the costs involved can, and must be, significantly reduced,” it added.

However, DEFRA junior minister Lord Rooker recently agrees with the sector that to work, industry must have a greater say on how disease is controlled and outbreaks are managed, as they are directly affected by those decisions.

“We want to reform the current system so that the industry is central to the decision making process and contributes to the costs of those decisions in a fair and transparent way.”

Looking at how cost sharing would work, Mr Bradnock suggested that the BPC would prefer a levy after an outbreak has occurred and then payment to take place when they know where the outbreak has happened. This is rather than paying before into a disease fund.

But he raised further questions such as: “How much are DEFRA wanting to pass on?”

Then there are also practical issues to consider. “One size doesn’t fit all. A delivery vehicle for the sheep industry wouldn’t suit for the poultry industry,” he said.

Mr Bradnock added: The BPC sees the benefits in greater cost sharing but we don’t want to take on extra costs unless we know what they involve.”

The deadline for responses to the consultation has been set for 15 April 2008. DEFRA says the responses will be used to develop detailed proposals on responsibility and cost sharing, which will be further consulted on in 2008. To see the full consultation visit www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/concult/foodfarming.htm

Cost of disease

• The cost sharing initiative is expected to cost farming (all sectors) £40m a year

• The cost of treating avian flu in 2007 is in the region of £4.7m

• In 2006, the cost was in the region of £1.2m