A new body to take responsibility for animal health is among the major changes proposed by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn in a new bill on animal health, published yesterday (January 25).

A new body to take responsibility for animal health is among the major changes proposed by Environment Secretary Hilary Benn in a new bill on animal health, published yesterday (January 25).

Environment Secretary Hilary BennThe proposed organisation would be led by an independent chair and board, and would take responsibility for animal health policy and its application – matters that currently rest with DEFRA.

According to Mr Benn, the draft Animal Health Bill sets out the major changes he intends to implement on responsibility for, and management of, animal health in England. It also incorporates a number of other measures drawn up following “extensive public consultation”, which include:

  • Making statutory the role of Chief Veterinary Officer (UK), based at DEFRA;
  • A new Chief Veterinary Officer for England;
  • Widening existing powers in England and Wales to collect and test veterinary samples and to vaccinate animals;
  • Simplifying payments for slaughtered animals or property seized or destroyed for disease control purposes in England and Wales.

Of the proposed bill, Mr Benn said: “It is based on a partnership working approach that will be increasingly central to the development of animal health policy and the means by which it is carried out on the ground. This will enable the experience and expertise of those making a living in the livestock and other animal related sectors to contribute to the policies and decisions on animal health.

“Central to long term success in combating animal disease, reducing its incidence and cost, and increasing the nation’s resilience to its impacts, is bringing about behaviour change among those directly affected. The development of responsibility sharing in the provisions of the draft Bill will help to secure the needed changes in business practices and attitudes.”

Cows in fieldThe Government has also consulted on proposals for the livestock sector to pay some of the costs of animal disease monitoring and prevention which are currently met by DEFRA. These cost sharing measures will be introduced under a future Finance Bill. Cost and responsibility sharing for the livestock industry was recommended by Sir Iain Anderson in his report on the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

Mr Benn said: “Outbreaks of animal disease are bad for everyone – animals, their keepers, and for society. Protecting animals and people from the effects of potentially devastating diseases like foot and mouth, bluetongue and African Horse Sickness costs the public about £400million a year.

“The proposals we are putting forward are in response to Sir Iain Anderson’s report. I believe that a partnership through the new animal health body – where the industry can contribute to decisions about animal health – will produce better management of disease and reduce overall risks and costs. This approach was very successful in tackling bluetongue, where industry and the Government developed a vaccination policy together and shared the cost of the vaccine.

“This Bill will therefore set up a joint Government-industry body to make animal health decisions in future. Proposals for cost sharing will come forward in a future Finance Bill.”

Further information on the proposed bill can be found here.

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