Animal Health Bill

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The Chairman: With this is will be convenient to take new clause 1--Pet animals—

``In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 34.

    `34A Pet animals

    Where it can be shown that a pet animal has been in contact with an animal affected by foot-and-mouth, it shall not be slaughtered until the result of a blood test for the disease is known'.''.

4.15 pm

Diana Organ: My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud raised a point of order this morning to have his name added to the amendment. It is a simple amendment and would exempt a particular group of animal owners.

The outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 was the biggest the world has ever seen. There was a war against the disease, but it was carried out against animals in the commercial livestock sector. We waged that war to maintain the productivity rate of those animals and for those animals to be in good health. The policy against foot and mouth has always been the cull to maintain the disease-free status that is so important for the export of our meat. Speed was of the essence in that policy. However, one part of it, the contiguous cull, caused great concern, indeed distress, to many of my constituents who fall within the wording of the amendment—that is, those who keep animals as pets, in animal sanctuaries or for non-commercial purposes. The Minister said that the contiguous cull was successful—indeed it was, in terms of beating the disease—but suggested that it might have been too high a price to pay in some areas and that there may have to be a debate about other options to use in the war against this dreadful disease.

The Forest of Dean suffered a dreadful outbreak in which there were 47 confirmed cases. Two factors had an impact on the number of people going to appeal against the contiguous cull. First, the Forest of Dean is a statutory forest that is considered as one premise for the purposes of the contiguous cull. Within its area there are villages and other settlements, and it surrounds about three quarters of the area of the district of the Forest of Dean. That meant that when some of the sheep that roam freely were discovered to have foot and mouth, the infected premise became contiguous to the whole district. The model produced by Professor Anderson stated that there may be an impact on four or five farms around an infected premise. In our case, it was impossible not to be included in the contiguous cull. All sorts of people were affected, including virtually every smallholder, farmer and cottage gardener. That would not happen in other landscapes with livestock.

Secondly, in the Forest of Dean there is a tradition of keeping farm animals as pets. For example, in the mining community there is a long tradition, going back about 150 years, of keeping a pig at the bottom of the yard.

Mrs. Winterton: And it was slaughtered.

Diana Organ: As the hon. Lady says, it was slaughtered, because people needed to eat it. However, while it lived in the garden the children played with it and considered it a pet. There is a tradition of keeping the odd pot-bellied pig. Indeed, until foot and mouth broke out, Dean heritage museum kept a pet pig in a sty.

There is also a tradition of keeping sheep as pets. Many people in the Forest of Dean have an apple orchard, and keep one, two, three or four sheep there. They are companions, not commercial livestock animals.

Mr. Breed: I have tremendous sympathy with what the hon. Lady is trying to do, but is there not a problem of definition in terms of whether it is normal for most people ultimately to eat their pets?

Diana Organ: I am clear about that. I have no intention of ever eating my cat. I love my cat; it is my companion. Similarly, these animals are companions to the people who keep them, not part of a production line or livestock. They will never sell them on commercially, nor would they want to slaughter them. They want them to go happily to the orchard in the sky, passing from this pasture to the next. One can make a clear distinction between farm animals that are kept as pets and those that are kept by smallholders for commercial purposes or to slaughter for food. Many people in the Forest of Dean are concerned about the Bill, so much so that public meetings have been held.

I am pleased that we have clarified some of the issues this morning. One of my constituents, Pat Jacobson, wrote to tell me that at the public meeting held on 13 November, Barbara Jordan and Stephen Alexander, QC made it clear that the Bill included the slaughter of dogs and cats. I am pleased to say that we have cleared up that point this morning. People such as myself who keep a cat need not fear the Minister's powers.

We have traditionally kept animals in the Forest of Dean. Even the ex-chief constable of Gloucestershire, Tony Butler, rang me in the middle of the foot and mouth crisis because he keeps three goats. They are his pets and he cares for them, cherishes and loves them. He would not be considered to be a farmer or even a smallholder. The tradition is so deep that the occupants of the Miners Arms at Sling keep a horse in a paddock. In recent years they have also kept a cow there. The cow was a pet, and it behaved like the horse—indeed, it believed it was a horse. Until the foot and mouth outbreak, it gambolled around like a horse; then it was unfortunately slaughtered.

Many people in my constituency rightly objected to that. There were 16 people who were classified as farmers, but they probably owned one pot-bellied pig. The other constituents who objected were those who keep animals in a sanctuary. For example, the Padfields keep 42 sheep and one pig. Many of those sheep have been rescued from their next-door neighbour, a farmer whose record on animal welfare is not good. Whenever a lamb is tossed over the hedge, Mrs. Padfield will scoop it up and care for it. Those lambs have grown to become healthy, if elderly, sheep. Her animals live in a sanctuary, and she cares for them deeply. Some of them are old and frail, and they would never leave her care or her property.

When the contiguous cull was introduced, nearly all the farmers, with the support of the National Farmers Union, wanted action to fight the outbreak because it affected their livelihood and commercial interests. However, with heavy hearts they agreed to co-operate with the contiguous cull. Those who had animals as companions and those who kept sanctuaries objected, and they had the right to do so. I am pleased that the Bill will not remove that right to object. They took great care and introduced severe biosecurity measures, but they still felt that they were placed under tremendous pressure, which is why I tabled the amendment. The pressure and stress on people with small animals was intolerable. MAFF officials pressured them, and it was a case of the little person against the giant of officialdom. I should not want them ever to go through that same stress and pressure again.

Mrs. Winterton: The hon. Lady is making a strong case for her constituents. However, the same pressure and stress were on the shoulders of the farming community, which was also up against officialdom. It was equally bad for them, and I should like the hon. Lady to recognise that fact because no other Government Member has done so today.

Diana Organ: The hon. Lady misjudges us. Those of us with foot and mouth in our constituencies were well aware of the stress on the farming community and on other areas of the rural economy. The tourism industry suffered great stress during the foot and mouth crisis.

The difference that I am trying to point out—perhaps not very well—is that the members of the farming community who owned commercial livestock in my area, almost overwhelmingly, co-operated with the contiguous cull, albeit with a heavy heart, difficulties and distress, because they wanted the disease eradicated. The individuals to whom my amendment relates wanted to object because the animals are not their livelihood; they are companions, or in a sanctuary, so they are in a slightly different category. I take on board the fact that the farming community's distress was tremendous.

I know of one woman with a pot-bellied pig whose husband suffered a heart attack during the period because of distress over the animal. Some of us might find it unbelievable that anyone could be so attached to a pet. I think that they were subject to such distress because of a mixture of attachment to a companion and the fact of an official saying, ``We are doing this in the interests of animal health and animal disease eradication.''

I want to mention the group at Oaklands Park, a Camphill Village Trust, a self-sufficient community of craftspeople, carers and people with learning disabilities, who made an objection. I shall discuss them later.

We are talking about a small number of animals. Each individual that I have mentioned took great precautions and serious biosecurity measures, and was willing to vaccinate to protect animals that would never leave their premises. When tests were carried out because people objected, none were found positive for foot and mouth disease. If the animals had tested positively, I am sure that their owners would have been prepared to have them slaughtered, because they cared so much for their animals that they would not have wanted them to suffer with the disease.

I want to say a little more about how the two factors—the statutory forest and the contiguous cull—meant that those people, by comparison, lost rights. Oaklands Park, which I have just mentioned, does not use its livestock for commercial purposes. It is self-sufficient and raises its own animals, for example for milk. It uses sheep for wool for weaving. The community took great care and virtually isolated itself for months. It wanted to vaccinate, and should be included here because the animals would never be used in the commercial sector. Those people objected, and I believe that in a democracy they had a right to do so. I am pleased to hear that, should such a dreadful thing occur in the district again, they will still have such a right.

It is important to mention that those people were all aware of the need to take biosecurity measures and that they would have accepted a local veterinarian risk assessment. That saved their animals in the end. Not all offered them up for slaughter; some stood out until the bitter end. With local veterinary interpretation and a risk assessment and evaluation, many were able to keep their animals. It was recognised that they were not a risk simply because they had been caught up in the contiguous cull of the whole Forest of Dean.

Those people live in the wider community of the Forest of Dean. They were aware that farmers around them were suffering dreadfully, and did not want to spread the disease and cause their neighbours distress or loss of livelihood. They have a commitment to their neighbours and felt it important to take every measure to keep their animals healthy and ensure that they were not passing the disease on to other animals.

We must also take on board the fact that we are talking about a small number of animals, not herds or flocks, but one or two: a pot-bellied sheep or a cow in a field.

4.30 pm

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Prepared 22 November 2001