I am pleased to announce that the Government are setting up a new Animal Health and Welfare Board for England. This is an important step in sharing responsibility for animal health and welfare with animal keepers and other interested parties. The aim is to build trust between Government and animal keepers and strengthen arrangements for working together to develop a true partnership.
Animal diseases, whether outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, avian influenza, or bluetongue, or current ones such as bovine TB, or salmonella, can be costly to animal keepers and Government alike. It is in everyone’s interests to reduce the risk and costs of disease outbreaks relating to all kept animals, including farmed animals, horses and pets, and to maintain our reputation for high welfare standards.
Since the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak, industry and Government have worked more closely together to agree disease control strategies, and there has been a series of proposals and consultations about what respective responsibilities should be in future. Most recently the report of the independently chaired advisory group on responsibility and cost-sharing was published on 13 December 2010. I record here my thanks to the chair and all the members of the advisory group for their work.
In developing our proposals for the board we have carefully considered the group’s recommendations, and listened to the views expressed about them since the report’s publication.
The new board will have responsibility for strategic animal health and welfare policy and oversight of its delivery in relation to England. It will be composed of around 12 members, who will be the senior DEFRA officials with responsibility for animal health and welfare (currently five people including the chief veterinary officer in his England role) and around seven to eight external non-executive members. The board will be the principal source of departmental advice to DEFRA Ministers on strategic animal health and welfare policy in relation to England.
We will seek external members (including the chair) who between them, have the skills, knowledge and experience to understand the whole range of strategic policy matters. We are looking for individuals who have the trust and respect of animal keepers and all other stakeholders.
Each external member of the board will have responsibility for engaging with a set of stakeholder groups and ensuring that the views of those groups are articulated in the board’s decision-making processes. We will consult the NFU and other stakeholder groups on the best way to organise this to ensure effective two-way communication.
The external members of the board will serve in an individual capacity. Members will be appointed on merit in a transparent process. I will advertise the posts publicly and invite organisations to encourage suitable candidates, who can demonstrate the confidence and trust of stakeholders and their representative organisations, to put themselves forward.
I expect the board to be appointed in the second half of 2011, and its views will shape the way DEFRA does business in the future and how it manages key relationships with delivery bodies, particularly the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
This is an innovative and exciting approach to bringing those affected by Government decisions into the heart of the process in order to create a more direct link between those making DEFRA policy and those experiencing the delivery of that policy. Its success will depend on the support of animal keepers and stakeholder organisations for the board and its members. I look forward to continuing the constructive dialogue already evident in the responses to the advisory group report.
The board will not deliver results overnight. This is a new way of working for both Government and stakeholders. I expect it gradually to strengthen joint working and lead to a greater understanding by all of the practices that collectively and cost-effectively reduce disease risk and maintain high welfare. Agreement on how best to achieve them should lead to greater adherence to responsible practices and thence to reduced animal disease risk and improved standards of health and welfare. This will benefit the Government, the public and animal keepers.
The advisory group recommended that cost-sharing should be taken forward in a staged approach once responsibility sharing arrangements were in place. Once established I will look to the board for advice on funding arrangements as it develops animal health and welfare policy for the future.
The full terms of reference for the board are published alongside this announcement (at http://www.defra.gov.uk/food-farm/animals/diseases/sharing/) which fulfils one of the commitments in the Government’s structural reform plan and the Department’s business plan.