Decisions about how to handle animal diseases would move to anindependent body under proposals announced for consultation by environment secretary Hilary Benn today.

Mr Benn said the proposals would see a new independent board established to make decisions about animal health policy and delivery, made up of members with knowledge, experience and skills in the livestock industry, animal health science and welfare and relevant public health, consumer and wildlife issues.

Environment Minister Hilary Benn In a disease outbreak, key decisions such as movement controls will be made by the chair and chief executive of the new organisation, on the advice of the chief veterinary officer.

Mr Benn said: “Livestock owners are worst affected by disease outbreaks, and they also benefit from disease control, where their livestock might otherwise become infected.

“It’s right that they should be more involved in making decisions about how we prevent and handle those diseases, and contribute to the costs of collective action to tackle disease threats.

“This new way of tackling animal disease, which builds on how Government and the industry have worked together to deal with bluetongue, will mean that everyone’s investment in disease control is more effectively and efficiently used. We should see a reduction in the total levels and costs of these diseases.”

According to Mr Benn, the plans will help to reduce the risks and costs of animal disease, improve confidence in animal health policies, and ensure the livestock keepers who benefit from animal disease control measures share the costs of those measures with taxpayers.

The new body will be responsible for dealing with exotic disease outbreaks such as bluetongue, policy on endemic diseases such as bovine TB, advising on the payment rates for animals culled as part of disease control and controlling animal diseases which pose a threat to public health.

The new body would be largely publicly funded, with a levy on livestock keepers contributing to the costs of surveillance and preparedness for exotic disease outbreaks. Views are also being sought on compulsory insurance for livestock keepers to contribute to the cost of dealing with exotic disease outbreaks.

The proposals are in line with recommendations made by Sir Iain Anderson after his inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 that those who gain from the eradication of these disease should help to pay the costs of doing so.

The new body would have three main sources of funding: public funding, fees and charges for services provided, and income from a new levy paid by livestock farmers, according to the type and number of animals they keep.

The Government currently spends £400 million each year on animal health and welfare, which increases substantially when there are disease outbreaks such as avian influenza. The cost to the farming industry is also considerable, but currently the industry has no decision-making powers over these policies and does not contribute directly to the cost of co-ordinating disease control.

Under today’s proposals, these costs would be shared between different types of livestock keeping businesses and between the beneficiaries of the successful reduction of risks and costs – particularly between taxpayers and livestock keepers, taking account of affordability.

The consultation responds to calls from the livestock industry to change the way the Government makes decisions about animal health policy.

The new framework will build on the strengths of the current system including the effective protection of public health, the developing partnership working with industry, the veterinary and scientific expertise of DEFRA and its agencies, and the delivery capability of Animal Health.

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