News item

TSI says cuts to animal health and welfare could cost the country far more than it saves

This month saw the tenth anniversary of the foot and mouth epidemic which broke out in February 2001, and cost the economy £8 billion. Since then the UK has dealt with smaller outbreaks of the disease, as well as major influenzas. Ten years on what has changed? Would we be ready if another strain hit – particularly with the imminent cuts to government spending?

Bulgaria and Turkey are currently dealing with an outbreak which has resulted in the culling of more than 700 farm animals. South Korea is struggling to contain Korea’s most serious outbreak of foot and mouth with the culling of 12% of their swine population.

The government cuts will put key services, such as animal health and welfare teams within local authority trading standards teams, under immediate threat – despite them having provided an essential service for many years.

The money available for animal health and welfare for the year 2010-2011 was around £8.5 million. By year 2011-2012 this will be almost halved to £4.8 million for England and £1.2 million for Wales. By year 2014-2015 it will be slashed to £2.4 million for England and £0.6 million for Wales – an overall cut of 65%.

When the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic swept across the nation, it resulted in a total of 2,030 cases and cost the UK economy more than £8 billion. The crucial work that trading standards did helped ensure that the disease didn’t spread further.

Jeremy Adams, lead officer for agriculture at Cambridgeshire County Council, was heavily involved during the epidemic. “We were responding to all calls to assist at the disease hotspots and travelling hundreds of miles to tackle the disease in that vicinity. It was similar with avian flu, we went to areas where the disease was present to collect dead birds and monitor for signs of disease.

“We were all playing an essential role in making sure that those who were flouting the rules, by allowing the disease to spread, were brought to book. We did regular checks on animal transportation vehicles at the roadside to see if they had been disinfected properly. By stopping vehicles like that from travelling any further it stopped the disease from travelling further.

“During all of the outbreaks we have worked closely with the farmers in the local areas to ensure they’re fully conversant with the rules. In our day-to-day work this continues when we visit farms and markets, check farm records and the tracing of animals, react to complaints and continue to inspect livestock vehicles in transit.” 

Graham Venn, ex Chair of the National Animal Health and Welfare Panel and currently Assistant Director with North Yorkshire County Council, England's largest agricultural county, said that the post 2001 foot and mouth enforcement regime, which was directly funded by Defra and delivered by local authorities following the outbreak, has been a great success.

“I believe that as a direct result of the investment, standards of animal husbandry, disease control and traceability has risen tremendously.

“We also have strong relationships with farmers which are vital, not only to keep potential disease under control but also to enable an effective response should we face future threats to our livestock industry.”

Speaking about life after the cuts, Graham Venn added: “There will be a move from proactive enforcement to more reactive enforcement work. There will be less ability to respond quickly and effectively to disease situations and poorer monitoring of livestock traceability. All of these combined will mean there will be a higher reliance on industry self regulation.”

Gloucestershire Trading Standards has been asked to deliver a 50 per cent reduction in their budget over two years. This will mean a proposed loss of around 20 posts. Eddie Coventry, Head of Trading Standards at Gloucestershire, said: “The implications of these severe cuts will result in a restricted capability to be able to respond to a major outbreak of animal disease.”

So if these cuts prove inevitable, will the safety of the national herd be compromised? Yes according to Jeremy Adams, but not until sometime after the decisions have been made. “And by then it could be too late.”


Notes for Editors:

This information relates to England and Wales only. Scotland do not receive funding from Defra.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact Lizi Piggins at TSI press office on 08456089430 or pressoffice@tsi.org.uk

Trading Standards Institute (TSI)
TSI is a training and membership organisation that has represented the interests of the Trading Standards profession since 1881 nationally and internationally.  We aim to raise the profile of the profession while working towards fairer, better informed and safer consumer and business communities.
TSI’s members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities and in businesses.  We are also supporting the delivery of initiatives such as the advice services Consumer Direct, UK ECC and UK ECCS.
www.tradingstandards.gov.uk