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DEFRA’s plans for a new independent body for animal health in England have been greeted with concern by owners who attended the first of its “consultation roadshows”.

Thirteen public meetings are taking place between 14 May and 9 June.

H&H attended one of these in Oxford last Wednesday (20 May), where a dozen people heard Defra officials explain plans to distribute “responsibility and cost-sharing” for animal health among owners and keepers in England.

The officials detailed proposed levies for livestock, including horses and poultry, and said Defra was liaising with insurance companies on an accompanying compulsory policy against exotic disease. But the plans were littered with unanswered questions.

At the meeting, Hugh Oliver-Bellasis, chairman of the council of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, said: “There is an issue of credibility in the way the consultation has been carried out. It’s completely mad [for Defra officials] to come to a meeting without really knowing how it would work between devolved governments.”

He — and a handful of beef farmers present — also criticised the plans for being “woefully short” on veterinary input.

But the plans for horses came under even more fire.

Breeder Celia Clarke was one of four people from the horse industry at the meeting, and is submitting a response to the consultation on behalf of the Lead Body for British Performance Sport Horses and Ponies.

“I’m worried by how little they appear to know,” she said. “They’ve thought about the whole thing for cattle and sheep and decided to tack on horses, plucking things out of the air [for the plans].

“Every time we raised an issue, they said it was ‘an early draft’.”

While Ms Clarke agrees the horse industry needs to be ready for an outbreak of exotic disease, she added: “How they have calculated [the levy] is very dubious.”

Single horse owner and specialist equine lawyer Rebecca Hewitt also attended the meeting.

“I don’t see how they’re going to do it or enforce it, and the more issues we threw into it, the more it seems to be an unworkable situation,” she said.

“This is absolutely happening, whether we like it or not — but they really have no clue as to how they’re going to proceed.”

Reader Angela Kember attended a meeting in Kent on 19 May and contacted H&H, concerned with what she had been told and that the plans appeared to her to be “set in stone”.

She said: “I urge everyone to try to attend.” View list of dates/venues

Two days after the meeting, a spokesman for Defra said it plans to discuss with the British Horse Industry Confederation how the “cost assumptions can be improved and refined to establish a more equitable position on which to base and calculate an industry contribution”.

The spokesman added: “We aim to work closely with the equine sector in establishing a robust proposition for equine registration, taking into account other requirements, such as passports.”

For a summary of the key points raised during the meeting, see Horse & Hound (28 May, 09). View the remaining dates/venues