Tuesday, December 08, 2009

We failed ....

All summer, several contributers to this site have been trying valiantly to collate the figures for the cost to the taxpayer, of testing and removal of bTB positives to the skin test and other assorted toys. While numbers of animals slaughtered are available on the Defra website, (and our trend graphs show just where cattle numbers are likely to be by 2014) other associated costs are not so transparent. So after a lonely trawl, a few Parliamentary Questions were lobbed in the general direction of Hilary Benn, Minister of State for (some) Animal's Health - and his henchmen.

The reason for this is simple. After worshipping the moneylenders, UK plc is broke. And in 2006 a short term fixing tape in the form of tabular valuation was introduced to reduce 'farmers' share of the TB largesse. But within three years, sheer numbers of reactors had outstripped any fiscal advantage. So in the absence of any change of policy, and to go with our trend line graph of the numbers of cattle Defra can expect to cope with, we had intended producing a graph illustrating the sheer bloody waste of money, cost of all this prevarication to the long suffering taxpayer, already reeling under the laxative of 'quantitative easing' to protect the financial sector.

And therein lies is a problem. Answers to our pointed questions, repeated when we really did not believe what we were reading, explained - patiently it has to be said - that 'Compensation' included many other expenses other than monies paid to farmers for reactor cattle. Aye?? That was a surprise - and it takes a lot to surprise us. Such cynicism comes with years of practise, but we digress..

The less-than-transparent figure for 'Compensation' also includes species other than cattle - and there have been a few of those with numbers climbing: "Payments for non-bovine species are included in the total compensation figure for England." Then the writer explained that they were:
" ... unable to pull out an exact figure as our records are not kept in that way. Prior to 2006/07 minimal compensation was paid for other species. Over 2006/07 and 2007/08 a more substantial amount of money was paid out (though under £1million) for camelids."
So the llama and alpaca casualties of 2007, were funded at 'less than £1million? That's like a supermarket offering goods at £99.99 and saying they were 'under £100'. And as the numbers were quite modest, they were expensive lawnmowers then?

As 'other species' are included in the total sum, a straight simple division into the amount paid as 'compensation' by the number of cattle reactors, would not be in any way correct. But it gets worse.

Although veterinary testing costs are collated separately (and in the last couple of years have outstripped 'compensation') we had not realised that the 'accounting' system which Defra operate also bundles all costs of removing the reactor from the farm, getting it through the abattoir and its eventual disposal into that one misleading total.

The minister of State was asked for the costs of:
(a) compensation paid directly to farmers for removal of animals, (b) veterinary tuberculin testing, (c) haulage for removal of animals, (d) abattoir and official veterinary surgeon services in respect of slaughter, (e) on-farm slaughter, (f) disposal and incineration and (g) valuation fees was in respect of the implementation of statutory testing and slaughter under bovine tuberculosis regulations of (i) cattle classed as bovine tuberculosis reactors, inconclusives or dangerous contact animals and (ii) all other mammals (A) between 1986 and 1996 and (B) since 1997. [293860]

Jim Fitzpatrick answered and confirmed an answer which we had already gleaned: that the figure euphemistically labelled 'Compensation' and which is generally accepted as being lobbbed into cattle farmer's pockets, included haulage, valuers fees, disposal of parts not wanted in the food chain - but was net of 'salvage'. Further questions elicited the following reply as to the cost of slaughter v. sales of meat:
Jim Fitzpatrick: No such estimate has been made. For most cattle compulsorily slaughtered on TB control grounds, DEFRA has received a net payment from abattoirs rather than incurred a cost. Meat Hygiene Service officials inspect carcasses of such cattle when slaughtered in licensed abattoirs, a small proportion of TB affected cattle are condemned as unfit for human consumption e.g. if TB lesions are identified in more than one part of the carcase. In such cases DEFRA does makes a payment to the abattoir to cover its disposal costs. It is not possible to provide details of slaughter costs in the form requested: typically an abattoir will receive batches of cattle being slaughtered on disease control grounds rather than single animals—if one (or more) of these animals is condemned, the cost to DEFRA will be offset by the total salvage value received from those passed as fit for human consumption.
So there we have it. A less than transparent method of calculating costs, the general public (and farmers themselves) assuming, quite wrongly, that the published figures for 'Compensation' relate to farmers, when in fact they include many other costs as well. And from abattoirs, no separate credit / debit balances, merely a net figure which was £4.3m last year, for the difference between what they charge Defra for putting cattle through the slaughter line, and the monies obtained for the carcasses. We would say Defra's cost control is as lacking as any effort to stem the tide of infection from a name they dare not speak..

A very rough guide to TB costs, is on the Defra website.
And to really confuse, figures for 'cattle slaughtered' are on a calandar basis (January - December), while associated costs relate to a 'financial year' (March - April)

You really couldn't make it up.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


May I suggest you remove the eddiekbarb SPAM above - it doesn't look to be associated with our blog

Matthew said...

Done. Sorry, tweaking the 'Diary' post - missed that spam.