TSE (England) Regulations 2002

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Mr. Wiggin: I am a little confused, because I understood that a voluntary scheme had been set up that would remove scrapie over a long period. The Minister's comments suggest that that may not be the case. Will he throw some light on that matter?

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Mr. Morley: I shall repeat what I said. The regulations do not make the national scrapie plan compulsory. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that it is voluntary. The measures for compulsory powers are in the Animal Health Bill, not the regulations, which have nothing to do with the national scrapie plan.

On TSE-susceptible animals, the regulations underpin the EU regulation, which refers only to TSE-suspect or confirmed animals. The reason why the regulations refer to TSE-susceptible animals is simple: under the European Union legislation that we are implementing, we are required to carry out testing of animals fit for human consumption that have already been sent to the slaughterhouse. We are not culling the animals; they are in the slaughterhouse. Those animals are not TSE-suspect, because they do not exhibit any signs of the disease. The Community regulation requires us for epidemiological purposes to test a proportion of them to see if TSEs are present, which is a sound and sensible precautionary principle.

We couch our legislation in such terms simply so that it can apply to such animals from susceptible species. The regulations also apply to the offspring of BSE-infected cattle, to prevent them from entering the food chain, because of the risk of maternal transmission. Again, the offspring cull introduced during the previous Administration does not cover TSE suspects, but our legislation has to be able to cover them. In any event, the epidemiological monitoring required of us relates only to certain categories of cattle, sheep and goats. The categories, and in many cases the number of animals involved, are spelled out in the EU legislation.

While it is in my mind, I shall answer the question on pedigree animals. If an animal is covered by TSE regulations for testing but turns out not to have a TSE, the owner will be able to sell the carcase in the normal way. If the animal is positive, compensation will be paid equal to the animal's market value, determined by an independent valuer if necessary.

The EU regulations, which have been described as draconian, relate to powers in regulations 4 to 10, so that they may be applied only for a

    ''purpose connected with the administration or enforcement of the annual programme of monitoring referred to in Article 6 of the Community TSE Regulation.''

Accordingly, powers in the regulations cannot be used in relation to cats or even fish for mass culling, as has been alleged, even in another place. The same has been said of the Animal Health Bill. That is paranoia gone mad. Some people say that we are out to get them, but we are not out to get their cat as well, so they can be reassured about that.

When a TSE suspect is discovered on a farm, action is taken only in relation to the affected animal and, in the case of BSE, its offspring. In both cases, full compensation is available to farmers. That is why, throughout the entire BSE story, there has never been the slightest suggestion that farmers are failing to report suspected animals—apart from when there were some concerns about the compensation not being 100 per cent., which was not under this Administration.

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Not only can we not slaughter other animals on the farm, but we have made it plain that we see no sense in doing so. Other member states are required under EU legislation to carry out whole herd slaughter when they discover BSE in a herd, or cohort slaughter when BSE is confirmed in an animal. We do not do that in this country because our extremely effective measures, such as the over-30-month scheme, mean that it is not necessary. Incidentally, we do not believe that there is horizontal transmission of BSE.

In the regulations, we have sought and successfully obtained a formal derogation from the EU Commission. That is because it is recognised that the measures in place here are effective. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk would have thanked us for the fact that we are taking steps to minimise the number of animals culled and to ensure that they are not culled unnecessarily.

I am surprised that Lord Whitty did not allay any suspicions that the regulations reintroduced measures from the Animal Health Bill. I have made it clear that they do not. He has been through that in some detail. Of course, DEFRA consulted widely on the draft TSE proposals weeks before the progress of the Bill was delayed in another place.

There are no links to the sheep TSE provisions of the Animal Health Bill. The Bill sought to provide for the genotyping of live animals, and to control the breeding of animals on the basis of their genotype, so as to work towards a scrapie-free national flock. That has widespread support from the sheep industry.

I have already described the provisions of the regulations relating to the TSE surveillance programme for sheep and goats. Those arrangements affect only animals that are being presented for slaughter anyway, or that die on farm. There is an obligation on Government to act reasonably and proportionately when enforcing legislation. That applies, in this case, in relation to human rights or data protection legislation. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, under the remit of which unusual or unexpected use of powers must be reported, has considered the regulations. It reported that there were five typographical errors and raised questions about two minor technicalities, which are being corrected. We can take some reassurance from the fact that it did not find any fault with the powers contained in these regulations.

I want to emphasises why the powers are needed. The regulations have two clear objectives. First, they represent an opportunity to consolidate the various statutory instruments concerning key domestic controls on BSE and scrapie that have been introduced on an ad hoc basis over several years.

Secondly, the regulations bring the domestic regime in line with recent developments at Community level. It has taken a long time, but the approach to BSE in other member states is becoming far more robust. We have pressed for that for some time, and it is a welcome improvement. Community provisions on TSEs are now to be found in Council regulation 999/2001—adopted last summer—which provides a secure legal base for a tougher EU-wide approach and

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is binding in its entirety and directly applicable in all member states.

It is high time that these measures were in place. While the BSE epidemic continues to decline in this country—in line with the predictions of our scientists and with our eradication programme—that is not the case in other European countries, including France, where more and more cases are coming to light. Our surveillance programmes have been a success, and the Community must now ensure that it faces up to the issues that other member states have realised affect them as well.

The TSE (England) Regulations 2002 came in on 19 April. I repeat that we have had extensive BSE controls for many years. To a great extent, the controls that have been introduced by the EU mirror the comprehensive legislation that we already had in place.

It is axiomatic that we should wish to hold on to the very stringent controls that have comprised the domestic approach to BSE. Plainly, it is right to use a tried and tested package of proportionate, precautionary measures, founded on expert scientific advice. However, we must not be complacent: it remains absolutely vital for human and animal health that the risks associated with the disease continue to be effectively managed.

The UK controls of the past must be retained: we owe far more to continuity than to any radical new approach. Nevertheless, we have ensured that people have been informed of developments in relation to the new regulations. We consulted the people most likely to be affected, on both the new Community regime and our own proposals.

To promote a proper sense of perspective, let me briefly outline the limited provisions that go beyond the controls that were previously in place in the UK. Two of the issues reflect new EU requirements in regulation 999/2001—one of them flowing from a recommendation by our own advisory body, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee. The first concerns additional EU surveillance requirements for the presence of TSEs in sheep and goats and casualty cattle aged from 24 to 30 months. I appreciate that there are cost implications for abattoirs. That is why DEFRA is meeting all the direct costs of testing and ensuring that results are available to abattoirs within 24 hours.

Hon. Members will need no reminder of the continuing concerns about TSEs in sheep. A major issue is the uncertainty over the true incidence of scrapie in sheep—that is one of the reasons for the monitoring. Scrapie could mask the presence of BSE. It is a theoretical risk, but not one that we intend to be complacent about, and it is essential to know the full extent of the disease in the Community flock.

The regulations also introduce a requirement that the vertebrae of beef assurance scheme cattle, those aged over 30 months, which can be sold for consumption up to 42 months, must now be removed and treated as specified risk material. Bearing in mind the very low BSE risk associated with those cattle, we sought a derogation from the

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Commission, but it insisted that the provision was necessary, based on the opinion of the EU Scientific Steering Committee, so we accepted what it said on the precautionary principle.

Finally, incinerators that burn specified risk material must, in future, dispose of the ash by burying it at a licensed landfill site. That is not an EU requirement, but it meets a specific recommendation from SEAC, and by and large it reflects existing industry practice.

That is the sum total of meaningful differences introduced by the regulations. The Government are committed to implementing and enforcing them fully because not doing so would have dire consequences and undermine the confidence of consumers. As I have already mentioned, without the regulations, our successful BSE controls would be dealt a hammer blow, inflicting real disease risks on consumers and livestock. That would leave people all over the UK wondering whether we had learned anything from the failures of the past. I sometimes wonder whether the Opposition have learned anything from the failures of the past, both about the precautionary principle and about being open and transparent. In addition, there would be damaging implications for our export markets. We should not forget that the Community provisions set out in Council regulation 999/2001 will apply to all member states. If we did not adopt the Community measures, the UK would face infraction proceedings, which would damage our credibility with the European Commission and in Europe generally.

That submission was longer than I would usually make to a Committee, but I have dealt with all the points that have been raised. I am sorry that the Opposition have picked up some conspiracy theories, which would be better confined to the more lurid websites on the internet and in the ether. There is not the slightest credibility in any of those allegations, which are based on misunderstanding and malice, and the Opposition are undermined by taking them seriously.

5.18 pm

 
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