September 9, 2008

Beef Farmers on Attack Over Animal Health Levy

By Sam Wood

BEEF farmers have launched an attack on Government plans to have the industry fund its Animal Health Control Programme.

The National Beef Association (NBA) say Defra's contentious plans to fund its new plans for animal health control in England through a headage tax on farm stock are wrong.

It describes a plan for a new levy as a lazy way of raising revenue and wants Defra to find the money by reducing the cost of the programmes.

NBA director Kim Haywood said: "Instead of installing an expensive new organisation, modelled on the over-staffed and sluggish Food Standards Agency, to run animal health policies, Defra should appoint a much cheaper industry-government group.

"That could meet in its existing offices and have immediate access to department heads and the Secretary of State.

"One of this group's first tasks should be to save farmers, taxpayers and government a fortune by putting all animal health control programmes and finances under a microscope and stripping out inefficiencies."

Ms Haywood said the money saved could then be used to fund solutions to disease problems.

"These unpopular plans to take money directly off farmers could be dropped. Defra hopes revenue to finance its favoured operation will arrive through a registration scheme for livestock farmers under which an annual fee per head would be set for each species and payments would be based on the number and type of animal each farmer owned."

Ms Haywood added: "Under current plans, such a scheme would have to generate pounds 425m a year to fund Defra's unreformed animal health operation and then acquire a building for the proposed new body which could require a one-off payment of at least pounds 150m.

"On top of this, contingency funding to meet the expense of exotic disease outbreaks, like FMD, avian flu, bluetongue and swine fever, would have to be accumulated for research into exotic disease protection, also funded with levy proceeds too.

"It is possible that if Defra's plans went through unchallenged, the annual payment on adult cattle could, over a number of years, average something in the region of pounds 30 a head.

"It is presumed there would be reduced payments for calves and immature animals."

She added: "And it is significant that Dutch dairy farmer objections to the import of veal calves from the UK on health grounds were the result of a fear factor because the Dutch government threatened to increase the disease control levy currently paid by farmers."

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