According to a recent report published by the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England (AHWBE), bovine TB (bTB) is currently costing Defra about £100 million a year,
and the costs can be expected to rise to more than £120 million by 2014/15. At the same time, as a result of the Government's spending review in 2010, Defra has to cut total expenditure by 30 per cent by 2015. As far as its animal health budget is concerned, spending will fall from £244 million in 2011/12 to £199 million in 2014/15. There won't be enough money to sustain the current arrangements so savings will have to be made.
As reported by the Veterinary Record (15 September 2012, p256), the board points out that this is a serious threat that is not being dealt with adequately: ‘We are not yet winning the war on bovine TB in England’ and the disease situation is getting worse. It believes that a ‘step change’ is needed in the approach to TB and in the report it challenges vets and farmers to come up with ideas for tackling the disease more effectively in a way that is sustainable for the industry and the taxpayer. It believes that finding new ways of working through dialogue and partnership offers the best chance of doing this and describes its public call for views as ‘the start of an open dialogue about finding solutions’.
Recommendations include a regional approach to eradicating TB in England, with tougher movement controls and improved surveillance in areas of high disease incidence, and working towards official TB-free status in low incidence areas. They also include changes in the compensation arrangements, and the introduction of some form of insurance scheme to help farmers meet additional costs. Michael Seals, the AHWBE's chairman, said that the AHWBE would be working with Defra towards to a formal consultation on bovine TB, and that ideas generated by the exercise would feed into this.
Discussing roles and responsibilities, the AHWBE argues that, with TB testing currently costing the Government £100 million a year, and Defra's total expenditure having to be cut by 30 per cent by 2014/15, the financial realities are such that there is a need to ‘rebalance’ the roles of government, the veterinary profession and the farming industry, and that new ways of working need to be found. ‘Innovative new ways of working could help us find efficiencies and empower farmers, vets and the wider industry to take greater control,’ it says.
Regarding TB testing, it says, there are ‘compelling reasons’ why change should be seriously considered. These include a need to ensure a consistently high quality of testing, to maximise the efficiency of existing systems and processes, and to ensure that the level of spend on TB testing is sustainable for the future. Also, it suggests, there is a need to maximise farmer choice in the provision of TB testing: ‘By maximising farmer choice, we would hope to see increased competition and better value for money,’ it says.