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Mr. Morley: A great deal of epidemiological research has been conducted into the origins of this outbreak. The current epidemic has been caused by a specific strain of the foot and mouth virus (PanAsian Strain O) which has occurred in a number of countries around the world. The precise means of introduction of the virus is unknown and subject to continuing investigations, but is most likely to have been introduced in illegally imported meat or meat products. It would not be appropriate to comment further on the specific question of the source or sources of the outbreak until all investigations are complete.
Hywel Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on what basis she formulated her policy on implementing a public and independent inquiry into the foot and mouth outbreak. 
Mr. Morley: The Government have already announced the independent "Lessons Learned" inquiry chaired by Dr. Iain Anderson and the Royal Society Study chaired by Sir Brian Follett, along with the Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food chaired by Sir Don Curry.
We are satisfied that these two inquiries and the Policy Commission will provide rigorous investigation of the issues in the foot and mouth outbreak and will allow us to identify the best wary forward, quickly and efficiently and that this approach is in the best interests of the public.
Paul Flynn: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the contribution that livestock markets made to the spread of FMD infection. 
Mr. Morley [holding answer 2 November 2001]: Prior to 23 February 2001, infected sheep are known to have been traded through a number of markets in England and Wales resulting in the initial dissemination of disease to farms, dealers and slaughterhouses. Epidemiological investigations indicate that potentially infected sheep passed through six auction markets between 13 and 23 February. Investigations into the role of other markets have not been conclusive but are continuing.
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Mr. Meacher [holding answer 23 October 2001]: The Copenhagen charter is a set of principles that a group of European environment and consumer organisations believe should form part of a new European Union chemicals policy. The UK is working to ensure that the regulations which implement the EU Strategy achieve the improvements in protection of people and the environment that the Copenhagen charter seeks.
While the Government support the aims of the charter, we do have reservations about the practicality of some of its proposals. For example, we believe that a system which involved approving all uses of all chemicals should not delay action on the chemicals of most concern. The charter also does not take into account other issues that are important to the UK, such as the need to minimise the extra animal testing that will result from the EU Strategy.
The UK and other EU member states agreed a set of conclusions at the Environment Council in June which incorporated many of the elements of the Copenhagen charter. A copy of the Environment Council conclusions is available in the Library of the House.
Mr. Grogan: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of arrangements made by British Waterways to manage flood control on its rivers; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Meacher: Where appropriate the Environment Agency has agreements in place with British Waterways on the operation of the latter's navigation infrastructure for flood control purposes. I understand that these arrangements have operated satisfactorily.
Mr. Grogan: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will publish data on volatility and volumetric flows on rivers managed by (a) British Waterways and (b) the Environment Agency. 
Mr. Meacher: This information is not collected by this Department but comprehensive information on river flows is published by the centre for Ecology and Hydrology (formerly the Institute of Hydrology and British Geological Survey) in their publication "Hydrological Data UK: Hydrometric Register and Statistics 199195". Information covering the period 19962000 will be published next year.
Mr. Russell Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what proposals she has to introduce a compulsory system for dealing with the issue of waste non-packaging farm plastics. 
Mr. Meacher: We will be addressing the question of how to deal with waste non-packaging farm plastics in the forthcoming consultation document on agricultural waste. We will consider whether a statutory scheme should be introduced in the light of responses to this consultation exercise.
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she has made of damage to livestock by fox predation during the suspension of hunting with dogs due to foot and mouth disease; what account has been taken of this in the determination of the time scale for the publication of the Veterinary Risk Assessment report on hunting; and if she will make a statement. 
Alun Michael: The Department has received no evidence of such consequences from the suspension of hunting. Consideration of the time scale for resumption of hunting is based entirely on the veterinary risk assessment and how best to help the countryside return to normal while doing all we can to eradicate foot and mouth disease.
Mr. Morley: Aid is available under the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS), which is part of the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP), to help farmers convert to organic farming. £140 million has been committed to funding the OFS over the life of the ERDP.
|Land eligible for arable area payments and land in permanent crops||Other improved land||Unimproved land|
As well as financial assistance for conversion, we also provide other support, for example, through the Department's R and D programme, which includes a large component dealing with research on organic farming, and through the provision of free advice to prospective organic farmers by the Organic Conversion Information Service (OCIS).
Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what discussions she has had with her counterparts in central and eastern Europe concerning the effect of enlargement of the European Union on agriculture in the United Kingdom. 
Mr. Morley: So far this year, my ministerial colleagues and I have had meetings with our counterparts from Poland, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania. Over the next few months we hope to build on these, and to have dialogue with our counterparts in Hungary and Estonia.
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Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the complement of staff working at her Department's regional office at Exeter was on (a) 1 November 2001 and (b) 1 August 2001. 
The RPA office at Exeter had 395 staff on 1 August 2001 and 429 staff on 1 November 2001. The staff numbers were increased over this period to deal with work that was transferred to Exeter from RPA offices at Bristol, Worcester and Reading.
Precise figures for the number of staff at the Foot and Mouth Disease Office at Exeter on the dates specified are unavailable. However, the number of staff was broadly unchanged over the period in question at around 300, approximately two thirds of whom were casual appointments.
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