Well, they're not at the moment, but if Defra has its clunking way they soon will be. I was reading The Times last night and lurking in the news found the nugget that Defra are proposing "that anyone owning a cow, pig, sheep or chicken will... have to pay compulsory insurance to cover costs in case of an outbreak of disease, and be forced to pay a separate levy to cover the costs of disease research and surveillance."
My heart beyond sank when I read this. I already have huge wodges of forms to wade through each year to claim our payment for our land, and I simply cannot believe that this new effort will not cost more to collect than it will raise. It will of course need a new computer system (and we all know how wonderfully well the government does with those - the new health service system, anyone? Has there actually been even one computer system the Government's commissioned that has not cost at least double what it was originally supposed to?)
One of the beliefs behind this document seems to be that those who generate the diseases (ie the animal owners) should "share responsibility" - in other words pay - for disease management.
The document mentions, as an argument for passing the cost of managing disease outbreaks on to producers, that controlling the 2001 outbreak of Foot and Mouth cost £3 billion. The fact that controlling the 2007 outbreak, caused by the Government's very own laboratories, cost £47 million, is buried deep in an appendix and not brought out as evidence. In the same year, Blue Tongue cost £2 million, and Avian flu £3 million. So, the Government was responsible for causing 90% of the cost of managing disease outbreak in 2007. If the Government actually causes disease, do we get a rebate? Will it take the responsibility it wants animal keepers to?
What I wanted to know when I heard about all this was if it was going to affect me; a very small animal keeper with a flock of 7 hens. That is a very moot point. There are costs attached to collecting payment: each payment will cost £15.88, says the document – “therefore there are thresholds below which it is not worth collecting a payment”. Well, quite. However, once the Government worked out the numbers of animals you needed to have to make payment worthwhile, it was immediately apparent that large numbers of animals were going to be missed: 59% of sheep, for a start.
Therefore, they suggest "All animal keepers, regardless of whether they keep animals commercially, for hobby or leisure reasons or for research would, in principle, be subject to the requirement to register under the scheme." In other words, everyone would have to pay a minimum of £15.88 a year to register their animals, plus the insurance levy. I don't have the accountancy brains in me to know if that makes any economic sense, or whether it will simply generate a lot of pointless paper. I don't know whether the insurance paid will be so minute that it will actually be counter-productive to collect it, or whether it will be a nice little earner for the insurance companies.
One thing I can make a pretty good guess at is that this proposed bill will also, of course, allow the Government to further its aim of knowing absolutely everything about everyone (and then leaving it around on memory sticks for someone to find).
And all this might well include horses too. I'm still trying to find the mysterious Annex 12, which specifically mentions horses. This is buried somewhere deep in the labyrinthine documentation galloping around this issue. I'll keep looking.