Trade Talk

Related tags Nutrition Defra

Trade Talk
DEFRA's FMD fight hampered by lack of resources

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, one foot and mouth outbreak could be called a misfortune, but two looks like carelessness.

The only bright side for exporters is that procedures and paperwork were already in place to certify exports of heat-treated products to the EU and some additional countries. There was only a brief hiatus between the declaration of new cases of foot and mouth disease (FMD) and legal amendments.

Those close to the handling of the outbreak have seen how woefully under-resourced the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) was to address the situation. This is a consequence of the haphazard hatchet-job on the civil service that was prescribed by the Treasury. In this case, the red tape itself has not been cut, but the wherewithal to produce and enforce it has. This is completely unacceptable.

Bureaucracy needs pruning in many areas, but not without strategic management. Animal, just like human, health must be properly resourced. We shouldn't have to wait for a disaster such as a leaking pipe to act. Investment must be made up front to avoid far greater costs when things go wrong due to lack of it.

This is blindingly obvious. The government is responsible for using taxpayers' money wisely. Pruning the civil service may be considered a vote-winner because people loathe bureaucracy. But consumers are unable to evaluate quickly enough which cuts would damage their interests.

The civil service's lack of transparency is a fact of life. Only those who've worked in it can understand it. The rest can only judge it by results. The means by which they were arrived at are largely invisible. Ministers, most of whom have never been anything other than politicians, are the least qualified to oversee a well-considered strategy for re-organising the civil service to meet stakeholders' needs. You can't design a healthy diet by weighing your daily food intake in grams and cutting the number by a third. You would get too much of some nutrients and not enough of others, affecting your health.

The Food Standards Agency is a model that might be used for other DEFRA areas of responsibility. Smaller, independent entities distanced from political interference are easier to manage, more efficient and more transparent.

Clare Cheney

Director General

Provision Trade Federation

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