The Responsibility and Cost Sharing consultation, which closes on 30 June, proposes forcing game farmers to pay a levy of 4p per bird as well as a mandatory insurance premium of 12p per bird to share the costs of future outbreaks of disease, such as bird flu and foot-and-mouth.

This would mean the health tax on each bird would be 16p.

This tax would apply to all game birds, from day-olds to mature birds.

Shoots would be required to pay an additional levy for every poult bought in and placed in a release pen.

A spokesman for the GFA explained: ?Our calculation of the possible 12p premium is as follows: DEFRA requires a levy of 4p per bird to raise the poultry sector?s share of the £22million needed for research and surveillance. According to DEFRA, the total amount needed from livestock industry-funded insurance to cover half of the expected costs of disease outbreaks in an average year is £67million. This is therefore the amount the insurers will presumably have to charge the livestock keepers as their total annual premium. The estimated figure of £67m is roughly three times the £22m, so it will cost three times as much to raise. In the case of the poultry sector, therefore, this would equate to 12p per bird.?

He added: ?Looked at another way, add the proposed 4p levy to the projected 12p premium and you get 16p per bird, which is about twice the profit currently obtainable on a day-old game chick produced in the UK.?

Game farmers have reacted angrily that the tax is so high.

Ian Dennis of Conigre Game Farm in Gloucestershire said: ?This is scandalous. How are game farmers supposed to absorb 16p? We will be forced to pass the additional cost on to our customers. A lot of game farmers work on a profit margin of only a few pence as it is. This is another nail in the coffin for the industry.?

Pam Kelsey of Heythrop Hatcheries in Oxfordshire said this could destroy the UK game bird market. ?We are already struggling to compete with the prices of game birds coming from France. What is worse is that this only applies in England, so it will be very hard for game farmers to compete with poult prices in Wales and Scotland. I would urge all game farmers to log on to the DEFRA website and take part in the consultation.?

DEFRA refused to confirm whether or not the figure was accurate: ?DEFRA officials have held numerous meetings with insurance representatives in the past year and they have expressed interest in the possibility of an insurance-based scheme. We?re working to develop a scheme, but like other insurance policies that operate on a risk basis, it would be unusual for the premiums to be the equivalent of the total financial exposure.?

Let us know what you think about this!