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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
European Standing Committee A Debates

Animal By-Products

European Standing Committee A

Wednesday 7 March 2001

[Mrs. Marion Roe in the Chair]

Animal By-Products

[Relevant Documents: European Union Document No. 12648/00 and European Union Document No. 12646/00]

10.30 am

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Ms Joyce Quin): The Committee will examine the proposed European Union animal by-products regulation. It follows on from an earlier debate on the transmissible spongiform encephalopathy regulation and fits into the framework of other initiatives that are being taken at European Union level, including the proposals on feedstuffs and animal feed.

The animal health crisis that is facing the livestock industry underlines the importance of the regulation by highlighting the need for animal material to be disposed of safely. The European Scrutiny Committee's report on the proposed regulation stated:

    ``Though detailed and highly technical, this is clearly an important piece of legislation, both for its human and animal health and environmental implications''.

I strongly agree with that.

Baroness Hayman leads on the matter at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. She has submitted two explanatory memorandums to the European Scrutiny Committee, which I am sure that members of this Committee will have seen in preparation for the debate. Her latest explanatory memorandum informs the European Scrutiny Committee about recent developments and responds to its queries. The fundamental objective of the proposed regulation is to update veterinary legislation on animal by-products to provide high standards of human and animal health protection.

The Committee has also been given the draft directive that amends Council directives 90/425 and 92/118. That is a simple tidying-up exercise: when the animal by-products regulation is adopted, it will revoke the parts of the old legislation governing trade and imports that will be replaced by the new regulation.

Animal by-products are animal carcases, parts of animal carcases and products of animal origin that are not intended for human consumption. Those categories include animals that die on farms and waste from slaughterhouses and butcher shops. The proposed regulation also covers manure, catering waste and products derived from animal by-products.

The proposed regulation results from a review by the European Commission of the existing EU health rules relating to the processing, disposal, trade and import of animal by-products and products derived from animal by-products. It sets out a comprehensive and directly applicable legal framework on the subject. It replaces and simplifies a multitude of existing veterinary directives and decisions that have developed ad hoc over more than a decade, often in response to internal market requirements or crises.

The proposed regulation would consolidate and update the provisions of the EC animal waste directive, parts of the so-called Balai directive and associated legislation. The legislation is implemented in Great Britain by the Animal By-Products Order 1999 and the Products of Animal Origin (Import and Export) Regulations 1996. It is proposed that the new regulation will come into force in February 2003. It is a lengthy and highly technical regulation that would introduce a number of changes. The proposed regulation would cover animal by-products—animal carcases, parts of animal carcases and products of animal origin that are not intended for human consumption—but it would also control manure and gut contents and products produced from animal by-products, such as pet foods. It would set conditions for the disposal, processing and use of such material. It would apply controls to trade in such material within the European Union, and to imports from third countries. The presidency has suggested that the scope of the regulation should be extended to include catering waste containing meat or products of animal origin, including that used in pig swill. That extension would ensure that similar types of material were all controlled by the regulation.

The main change is that the current definition of high-risk and low-risk animal by-products would be replaced by three categories. Category 1 material would be high-risk material for which there would be no permitted uses. It would include the carcases of animals confirmed or suspected of having BSE, specified risk material and ruminant animals that contain specified risk material, including ruminant fallen stock. It would also include the carcases of pet animals. The material would need to be disposed of, without undue delay, by incineration, by rendering followed by incineration or by rendering followed by landfill. Only pet animals could be disposed of directly by burial.

Category 2 and 3 material could also be disposed of in that way. Category 2 material would be high risk but, unlike category 1 material, it would have some limited uses. The material would include non-ruminant fallen stock, spoiled meat and carcases of animals with diseases other than BSE and the manure and gut contents of mammalian animals. The material could be rendered and used in a biogas or composting plant. Untreated manure and gut contents could also be used in a biogas or composting plant and fish could be ensiled. Category 3 material is that which is fit for human consumption. It may be rendered and used in feeding stuffs or fertilisers, used in the production of pet food or technical products or treated in a biogas or composting plant.

Farmers would still be able to send the carcases of animals that die on the farm to a knacker's yard or hunt kennel. Article 21 of the regulation would also permit member states to use other disposal routes for animal by-products, including using them for scientific purposes, which happens at present, taxidermy and the feeding of wild animals in zoos. The proposed regulation would require the official approval of the premises in which animal by-products are processed. It would set out standards to which they must operate. The regulation would also establish transport conditions and record-keeping requirements. Those requirements would apply both to unprocessed and processed material. For example, raw, part-rendered and fully rendered animal by-products would have to be transported in covered containers and accompanied by a commercial document and, where necessary, a health certificate.

I mentioned the explanatory memorandum and the supplementary explanatory memorandum submitted by my noble Friend Baroness Hayman. The proposals would, in some respects, bring European Union law into line with that already in place in the United Kingdom. However, in other respects, as my noble Friend pointed out, the controls would go beyond those that already apply in the UK. In particular, the regulation would strengthen controls and provide a complete audit trail from the production to the disposal of animal by-products. There is already a good degree of traceability in the UK. Clearly, such traceability must exist throughout the single market and the European Union.

The Government broadly support the proposals, which are necessary to prevent the introduction or spread of diseases through the disposal or recycling of animal by-products. However, we are also keen to ensure that the controls are proportionate to the risk involved. We shall continue working with our European colleagues to address all the issues with that aim in mind. I look forward to hon. Members' comments.

The Chairman: We now have until 11.30 for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that their questions should be brief and asked one at a time. There should be ample opportunity for all hon. Members to ask several questions.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): Thank you, Mrs. Roe. I will try to be brief, because I have several questions for the Minister. I appreciate her introductory remarks, and I understand that the Government do not necessarily support the entire document. In some of my questions I will ask the Minister to explain why the Government think that certain factors are included in the proposals.

The fact that the use of disposal to landfill or burial is permitted for a pet but not for a farm animal in category 1 presents a conundrum to which I cannot find an answer. Burial of category 3 products, which could be used for human consumption, is not permitted. Will the Minister explain why the Commission proposes to allow the burial of pets but not of farm animals, even though pets could be classified in category 1? We know, for example, that cats can get TSEs—there is clear evidence of that. It is odd that one may legally bury a cat with TSE, but not a farm animal with the same problem. Category 3 deals with edible stuff, which one is not permitted to bury. Will the Minister explain why the Commission has put forward such proposals?

Ms Quin: As a general response and as an indication of the framework for this debate, it is worth pointing out that the process of introducing this regulation has some way to go before completion. Often we deal in Committee with subjects that are likely to be instantly or shortly concluded in the European Council. In this case, the issues are technical—I do not claim to be an expert on them—and issues may be raised that we can resolve as part of that process. The Council of Ministers has not yet reached a common position, and we are still at the stage of official discussions in the various committees and Council working groups. The proposals must then be sent to the European Parliament, where they will be examined.

When I last appeared before the Committee, we discussed some of the Commission's proposals relating to making the temporary feed ban permanent. My guesstimate is that the decision-making process for the regulation is likely to go hand in hand with discussions about whether to make that ban permanent. Conclusions may be reached on that in May, June or July.

The hon. Gentleman asked a specific question about pets and the issue of burial. Three disposal routes are available for people with a dead pet: burial, cremation and rendering before landfill or incineration of the rendered material. Therefore, burial is not the only possible route for disposal of pets.

Pets are included in category 1, the highest risk category, because in some other member states pets have been rendered and the resulting meat and bonemeal fed to livestock. The proposal would stop that happening in future by requiring that material resulting from rendered pets could not be used for any purpose.

The hon. Gentleman raised the possibility of a cat with TSE being buried. Obviously, if people were worried that the cat's death was related to a TSE, the cat could be disposed of by one of the other routes. The hon. Gentleman makes a useful point to discuss with the European Commission. He asked why it was possible to permit the burial of pets but not animals for human consumption. We have pointed out to the European Commission that a complete ban on burial for farm animals would probably not be practical, and the latest text of the proposed regulation includes scope for burial of category 1 material in remote areas.

The issue was raised during a previous Committee sitting in which we considered the TSE regulation. The difficulty of disposing of an animal in remote areas might result in an exception to the regulation. We do not know how the Commission will draft the final definition of a remote area, but it is likely to include remote islands, for example, and remote areas in which population density is low and the disposal facility is situated a long way away.

 
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