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Animal health cost-Share policy warrants more talks, say unions

by 5m Editor
29 June 2007, at 9:18am

UK - Farming Unions and the devolved administrations have told DEFRA that a November timetable for the introduction of animal health cost-sharing is not acceptable without responsibility sharing for animal health policy development and operation.

DEFRA officials have been told that direct talks between industry and ministers on proposals for sharing the costs of animal health and welfare policies should be a high priority. Currently the farming industry fears that livestock producers could be left picking up a sizeable share of the costs of a major disease outbreak through no fault of their own. The last outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease cost British taxpayers about £8bn.

Last week NFU Scotland warned DEFRA against trying to impose animal health costs, including a disease levy, on the farming industry, and against going back on a promise to give industry a far greater say in policy in return. Defra found itself in the embarrassing position of having no support from the industry for its proposals and all the farming unions demanding direct talks with ministers.

At this week's meeting with officials, industry representatives reiterated that discussions could not continue unless ministers committed in forthcoming legislation to either establishing a joint industry/government policy making body, or delaying cost-sharing proposals until such moves to share responsibility came about.

Industry will meet ministers next month to discuss the issues with them directly.

Speaking from London after the latest meeting, NFUS chief executive Andy Robertson said that DEFRA ministers are clearly isolated as both industry and devolved administrations are clear that a November timetable for legislation without a commitment to a bigger industry say in policy is unworkable and unacceptable.

Ulster Farmers Union President, Kenneth Sharkey said that the unions had consistently and repeatedly told DEFRA since the outset that there could be no deal on animal health cost-sharing proposals unless farmers were given a proper input into animal health policy making.

"It is now clear that this view is supported by the devolved administrations Despite the understanding that we thought we had from Government that this was likely to happen, it emerged recently that DEFRA were intent on introducing legislation in November which would enable cost-sharing to be introduced without responsibility sharing. This simply cannot happen," he added.

Mr Sharkey said that if Government was looking to the industry to help cover animal health and welfare costs then they could not expect farmers to contribute financially without having an equal say in the development and operation of these policies.

"The Unions now want to meet with DEFRA ministers soon to fully convey our position and directly discuss this very important issue with them," he added.

5m Editor