The National Beef Association has rejected Defra proposals for disease cost and responsibility sharing (CRS) in England which were put forward in a consultation paper earlier this month.
It is the first organisation representing beef farmers to do so publicly and is hoping others will join with it and help to persuade government to adopt more suitable alternatives.
A specially formed committee decided that the Association would not support Defra’s proposals because the cost to farmers, some in the form of additional taxation through a new levy system, was too great.
As an alternative they agreed to encourage moves to root out glaring inefficiencies in Defra’s current £400 million a year animal health budget, which would save much more money than could ever be raised through a levy imposed on farmers.
They also agreed that continuation of the current core stakeholder group system, in which farmers’ representatives and government officials combine to oversee exotic disease outbreaks, would be more effective, and a great deal cheaper, than setting up the alternatives suggested by Defra.
The 2007 FMD epidemic was managed with the help of farmers through a core stakeholder group – and this continues to be the case with bluetongue.
Defra has suggested the establishment of a separate animal health board modelled on the Food Standards Agency, or a new quango similar to the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board, would have better disease control results – but the NBA committee considers the funding burden on the livestock sector could eventually become far greater because an independent body is bound to be more expensive and distant.
Central to the arguments being put forward by the NBA is that it is not a good idea to impose an unnecessary, ineffective, and inefficient tax on livestock keepers at a time when breeding stock numbers are plummeting.
The Association’s committee also highlighted that the 65-70 per cent reduction in the cost of disposing of fallen carcases under BSE rules after privatisation demonstrates just how inefficient Defra’s systems had been – and are certain that countless inefficiencies on that scale remain throughout its current disease control operations.
They are confident that this unnecessary spending will never be addressed until an independent audit, driven by farmers, into Defra’s management of animal health is initiated.
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