Mixed reaction to disease policy

THE latest plans to change the way that the country controls animal disease have met with a mixed response from the UK's farming industry, with one leader calling it a "wasted opportunity".

A report this week from the independent group established to look into the matter recommends that decision-making when it comes to controlling diseases such as Foot and Mouth and Bluetongue be overseen by a Partnership Board made up of 12 people from the livestock industry and Defra.

It would, according to the group "bring together key Defra officials and external members with knowledge and experience of the relevant businesses, farming and other kept animal sectors as well as those with wider interests in animal health and welfare and its public health implications".

The move marks a departure from previous plans to establish an independent body to look after animal health issues and also sees plans for a levy on livestock keepers dropped.

However, cost sharing remains very much on the agenda with other options to pass on the cost now being looked at including fees and charges for services, alterations to compensation payments and the potential roles of private insurance firms.

Defra is now set to consider the recommendations before making proposals in the new year on the best way forward on sharing the responsibility and cost of preventing and tackling animal disease.

The proposals got a resounding thumbs-up from the British Veterinary Association with its president Harvey Locke calling them a "common sense approach to the difficult issue".

However, National Farmers' Union president Peter Kendall said that proposals will not result in a genuine partnership between farmers and Government. He said: "We believe that the group's proposal for a government-appointed 'English Partnership Board' is, as it stands, a missed opportunity to change the culture of the relationship between livestock keepers and the government.

"A group consisting of government officials and external board members appointed by ministers could provide valuable advice to ministers and improve policy making in the animal health and welfare functions."

William Worsley, president of the Country Land and Business Association, echoed Mr Kendalls words, saying: "The previous government's Animal Health Bill seemed to offer some of what we were seeking, but the coalition Government withdrew the bill because its policy is to reduce, not create, arm's-length bodies."

Mr Worsley said the proposals were trying to "square the circle of creating a meaningful responsibility-sharing body".

CW 18/12/10