Your questions answered

Homepage > Your questions answered

Your questions answered

Below are the top ten most popular questions to Defra in letters from the public, last updated on 25 October 2007.

  1. What’s the latest on the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and bluetongue?
  2. How much funding has Defra received in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review to help tackle flooding?
  3. What extra help is the Government providing for those affected by the recent flooding?
  4. How can I alleviate the distress which my pets might experience around 5th November?
  5. Will Carbon Offsetting actually reduce emissions?
  6. Why is the UK target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions still 60% instead of 80%?
  7. My local authority is introducing fortnightly collections of household waste. Householders pay council tax to cover the cost of waste collection, how can this reduction in service be justified?
  8. What is Defra doing to encourage supermarkets to use less packaging?
  9. How does Defra propose to manage the coexistence of Genetically Modified and non-Genetically Modified crops ?
  10. How can I cut my personal carbon footprint?

1. What’s the latest on the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease and bluetongue?

The latest information is available on the Defra website:

2. How much funding has Defra received in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review to help tackle flooding?

The Government announced increased funds for Defra in its Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) on 9 October underlining its commitment to tackling climate change and enhancing the natural environment.

The Government is committed to effective management of flood and coastal erosion risk and spending across central and local government in England has increased from £307 million in 1996-97 to some £600 million this year. This will increase further to a minimum of £650 million in 2008-09, £700 million in 2009-10 and £800 million in 2010-11. The CSR increases Defra’s budget by 1.4% each year between 2008-11, which takes Defra’s total budget from £3,508 million in 2007-08 to £3,960 million by 2010-11.

3. What extra help is the Government providing for those affected by the recent flooding?

There is a well-established system, which means that, after any disaster (not just flooding), local authorities can apply to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for reimbursement of some of their key costs; especially the costs incurred through immediate action to protect people’s lives and property. These applications are made under the Bellwin scheme. The rules of the Bellwin scheme have been changed to make it easier for local councils to claim back additional costs associated with the recent flooding.

As well as the Bellwin scheme, the Government has provided a support package of up to £57 million:

  • £20m for local authorities in flood hit areas to support the work that they and other organisations are doing to help recovery – especially for dealing with people who have lost everything and need immediate support.
  • £10m from the Department for Transport for local authorities for repairs to local highways with more to come for affected local authorities as claims are submitted.
  • a contingency reserve of £1m to be made available by the Department for Work and Pensions to meet additional grant applications from the recent floods. For example, this can help with the replacement of essential household items for communities.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has also made £14m available to clear up flood damage to schools and children’s services. The Government will continue to monitor the situation very carefully, working with local councils and agencies.

4. How can I alleviate any distress my pets might experience around 5th November?

We understand that people are concerned about the distress that animals might experience because of fireworks.  The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it an offence to infuriate or terrify any animal.  Any person or organisation may initiate proceedings under this Act.  The courts alone must decide whether an offence has been committed.

The use of fireworks is governed by the Fireworks Act 2003.  Regulations were introduced in 2004 under this Act to prohibit the use of fireworks after 11pm (12pm on 5 November).  They also ban the supply of excessively loud fireworks.  These measures were brought in partly to protect animals.

Our general advice is to:

  • keep all pets inside the house once the sun starts to set, some people set off fireworks before nightfall;
  • cover aviaries and rabbit hutches so that should the very loud noises disturb the animals, they do at least have a natural-like habitat, where they are able to hide;
  • feed and exercise your animals well during the day, this will lead to a calmer animal once the noise starts;
  • if your dog runs for its bed, a cupboard or under the bed, leave it there and allow it to follow its natural instinct which is to hide in a den or cave;
  • do not try to acclimatise your dog to the noise by insisting it faces the noise, they may never get used to the noise and you may be causing damage;
  • allow the dog comforts within the den, give it its blanket, some water and a toy to make it feel comfortable;
  • your dog may jump into the bath or start to dig, which shows its instinct to run into holes when danger is present; and
  • if your dog shows any tendency to hide, let it do so.

5. Will Carbon Offsetting actually reduce emissions?

Carbon offsetting is not a cure for climate change, but it can help raise awareness and reduce the impact of our actions. Offsetting has an important role to play, but the most important action we can take is to actually reduce emissions.

Defra is developing a Code of Best Practice for carbon offsetting. This should be in place by the end of the year. We will also create a ‘quality mark’ to provide consumers with clarity and certainty when offsetting.

6. Why is the UK target for reducing carbon dioxide emissions still 60% instead of 80%?

There is considerable stakeholder consensus around 60% as an ambitious commitment for the UK, in line with our leading position internationally. The Prime Minister announced on 24 September that the Government will ask the independent Committee on Climate Change to advise whether the target of a 60% reduction in emissions by 2050, which is already bigger than most other countries, should be even stronger still. 

The Climate Change Bill will set a long-term legal framework for reducing emissions by this and future Governments. We have opted for five-year carbon budgets with annual reporting, rather than setting annual targets for very good practical reasons. Budgets provide a more sensible approach as annual emissions may vary, due to an unexpected cold spell or fluctuations in fuel prices.

We are establishing the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) as an independent statutory body to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on the pathway to the 2050 target. The Bill proposes that the CCC provides an independent progress report to which the Government must respond, and to ensure that it is held to account each year on its progress towards each five year carbon budget and the 2020 and 2050 targets.

7. My local authority is introducing fortnightly collections of household waste. Householders pay council tax to cover the cost of waste collection, how can this reduction in service be justified?

Good recycling performance and alternate collections of recyclables and residual waste are often linked, and the main reason councils introduce these systems is to improve recycling.

There are many ways to improve recycling performance. The right approach will depend on local circumstances, and it is up to local authorities to make their decisions in consultation with local residents. When deciding what sort of collection system(s) to use, authorities have to weigh up a range of factors including: their environmental objectives; residents’ wishes; costs; as well as specific local conditions like the type of housing involved. Local authorities’ primary concerns are to help people to recycle more and to provide the best possible value for money.

8. What is Defra doing to encourage supermarkets to use less packaging?

Reducing the amount of waste we produce in the first place, as well as ensuring that greater amounts are reused or recycled, are top priorities for the Government and the main components of the Waste Strategy for England 2007, published in May 2007.

The Government is continuing to encourage supermarkets to take greater responsibility for the waste they place on the market, and wants producers to reduce their waste. There are two sets of formal Packaging Regulations to help this process. In addition, the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is working with retailers through the 'Courtauld Commitment'. This is a voluntary agreement that aims to halt packaging growth by 2008, and make absolute reductions in packaging waste by 2010.

Thirteen major retailers, representing 92% of the UK grocery sector, have signed the agreement. Twelve major brands have also signed the Commitment since it was launched in 2005.  These include Unilever, Heinz, Northern Foods, Britvic, Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola Enterprises Ltd, Dairy Crest, Duchy Originals, Mars UK, McBride, Nestle UK and Premier Foods .

9. How does Defra propose to manage the coexistence of genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops?

No genetically modified (GM) crops are currently being grown commercially in the UK and none will be unless evidence shows they are safe for human health and the environment.  There is a strict and precautionary European Union (EU) control regime that requires all proposed GM products to undergo a rigorous safety assessment process. We will not agree to an EU authorisation for a GM crop unless we are fully satisfied it is safe.

We are analysing all the responses to our coexistence consultation paper following over 11,000 responses from various stakeholders. We will then publish a summary of these responses on our website and indicate how we intend to proceed. 

10. How can I cut my personal carbon footprint?

A new web-based CO2 calculator has just been launched. The calculator allows individuals and households to find out their CO2 footprint. It works out how much carbon dioxide is emitted through every-day actions, like heating the home, and using domestic appliances.

The calculator also provides a personalised action plan, which has ideas for reducing the size of your carbon footprint. Depending on how many home appliances and cars you have, and whether you have your energy bills to hand, the calculator generally takes around 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

Page first published: 25 October 2007

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs