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News 334 views update:May 12, 2010

UK: Defra's animal health/welfare plans opposed

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has called on Defra to abandon its plans for a new animal health body that will give responsibility for animal health to an independent board and leave responsibility for animal welfare with ministers.

The BVA has also expressed deep concerns over the confusion caused by the new structure that could lead to delays in dealing with outbreaks of disease across the UK.

In its response to the Defra consultation on responsibility and cost sharing the BVA highlighted the following issues:

Animal welfare: The welfare of animals is inextricably linked to their health and the BVA does not support Defra’s proposal to separate the two. Any new body responsible for animal health must also be responsible for animal welfare.

Disease control: The lack of clarity in the proposals over the roles of the Chief Veterinary Officers, the Board, and Ministers may compromise the UK’s ability to respond effectively to major outbreaks of notifiable disease, such as BSE, bluetongue, avian influenza and foot and mouth disease. Anything that causes confusion in decision making could have disastrous consequences for the farming and the rural economy. 

Non-livestock animals: The implications of the new body for species including horses, companion animals and zoos/wildlife establishments are not described or considered. It is essential to ensure they are not overlooked or sidelined in a body with a Board set up around livestock.

Funding: The Government must continue to seek to improve animal health and welfare and maintain its financial commitment to disease control. In a new partnership arrangement the costs of diseases control must not simply be transferred to the industry. Any cost sharing arrangements must also provide industry with an incentive for action to improve their practice and reward those that achieve good animal health and welfare outcomes and penalise those that refuse to adopt industry accepted norms.

Competitiveness of English agriculture: The competitiveness of English agriculture could be jeopardised in relation to other EU Member States and other parts of the UK if these proposals are brought in before European-wide proposals are announced in 2011.

Commenting, BVA President Nicky Paull said “We’re asking Defra to go back to the drawing board on responsibility and cost sharing. While we agree with the principle of sharing responsibility for managing disease with industry, we believe this is the wrong way to achieve it.

Paull added “The BVA is also very concerned that the new structure puts at risk the clear structures and single line of command essential in the event of a major disease outbreak. We know from experience that any delay in communication and decision-making in the face of foot and mouth, BSE or avian influenza comes with a hefty price tag.

“Instead of focusing on structures that confuse the process, Defra should concentrate on creating a real partnership between government, industry and the veterinary profession. We hope Defra will take our constructive criticism on board so that we can make responsibility and cost sharing work for everyone.”

Related links:

Defra

BVA

Natalie Berkhout

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