The future of plans to tax game birds in England was in doubt last week after the anticipated Animal Health Bill failed to be included in the Queen?s Speech.
The Bill would pave the way for the introduction of ?Responsibility and cost sharing? (RCS) measures that would make the industry pay for outbreaks of animal diseases.
The government?s proposals amount to a tax on game birds which, according to the Game Farmers? Association (GFA), would cost approximately 12p per bird each time it is sold on whether as a day-old or a poult.
Despite the lack of a draft Bill and questions over whether there is sufficient time in the parliamentary session to pass the legislation, DEFRA last week insisted it intends to ?bring forward a draft Animal Health Bill, which would establish an independent body for animal health in England?.
Additionally, the department announced it aims to publish the Bill early in January ?in good time? for the end of the current parliamentary session.
Critics of the RCS proposals say the government has not yet even addressed the concerns raised by respondents to the DEFRA consultation on the plan, which closed five months ago.
DEFRA last week reinforced the message that: ?Government is looking to develop appropriate mechanisms which will focus on behavioural change [of the farming industry] and will also help to share the responsibilities and costs between government and the farming industry for animal disease control.?
It is believed to be almost impossible the Bill could become law before the next election, but it seems clear this is an attempt to guide the eventual shape of this legislation, which must be introduced in some form to meet EU directives.
The proposed Animal Health Bill would create a new government department with responsibility for ?animal health? while ?animal welfare? would remain the responsibility of DEFRA.
Critics of the proposals argue a new department would add another layer of bureaucracy to government and would illogically separate animal health and welfare management.
The GFA told Shooting Times magazine it regarded it as ?a great disappointment the government is pushing ahead when virtually every livestock sector has opposed the plans?.
Economist and government advisor Rosemary Radcliffe, who chairs the working group examining the best way of implementing cost sharing, acknowledged a draft Bill may ?engender an element of alarm? among the agricultural sector.
She told Farmers Weekly: ?There is a long process of Bill scrutiny, which is the reason why, if you want a new [animal health] body at all, which we might by 2012, you really have to start the process now, otherwise you don?t have the time to do it. So it is not a done deal at all.?
In response, Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, criticised DEFRA?s attitude, saying: ?It is unacceptable this proposed Bill is being talked about as a done deal before the results of the consultation have been fully considered. There are huge concerns across the countryside, with horse owners, farmers and gamekeepers needing reassurance that their views have been properly considered. It is obvious to all interested parties that ploughing ahead with an animal levy as well as mandatory insurance while many rural businesses have their backs to the wall could be catastrophic.?