Disease levy sparks fury

The meat industry has condemned the government's proposed measures for unloading costs for animal disease on the sector.

Twenty-nine organisations from the UK livestock sector have made a statement, calling for the government to reconsider the proposed levy.

They are angered that the levy is being mooted at a time when the industry has been reeling from the £100m additional costs resulting from the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak caused by a leak from a laboratory that is ultimately the responsibility of the government.

Alistair Donaldson, executive manager for the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, said: "We think it is premature that Defra, in particular, having been responsible for this outbreak, is talking to the industry about responsibility and cost-sharing."

He called on the government to look at ways in which it could reduce the regulatory burden on the meat industry before it started talking about cost-sharing. The Hampton Review, he said, was about "plenty of talk and little action".

Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, speaking at the Scotch Premier Meat Christmas Carcase Show this week, said he would argue any such levy, and promised to fight for the industry's interests. However, he wouldn't commit to keeping Scotland out of any such scheme should it be introduced by Defra.

Norman Bagley, policy director at the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS), believed this was a signal that Defra really was unmoved by the prospect of the decimation of livestock production. He said: "On the on one hand, it says it wants a sustainable livestock production section. On the other hand, it is doing its best to destroy it."

Stuart Roberts, director at the British Meat Processors Association, said that while the industry understood that Defra had tight budgets it was working to, the meat sector was not happy with the suggestion of a levy, which some saw as a blunt instrument. "The industry is not in a financial state to be able to contribute," he said, suggesting that government departments, such as the Meat Hygiene Service and Defra, consult and talk to each and look at the cumulative effect of their policies on the meat industry.

Thomas Binns, livestock board chairman at the National Farmers Union, accused the government of insensitivity in pursuing the cost-sharing measures at a difficult time for the industry. "It seems the government is capable of delivering a bill and a cost, but not sharing responsibility in a pragmatic manner particularly since FMD came from a government laboratory at Pirbright," he said.