Animal Health Bill

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Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster): New clause 2 provides another opportunity to offer vaccination as an alternative to slaughter. I welcome the Minister's preferring the principle of vaccinate and live to that of vaccinate and slaughter. As I was thinking about that, my eye caught the painting above your head, Mr. Conway. Given the nature of our debate, it is a shame that the painting is not entitled, ''Elliot inciting the British to prevent the landing of imported meat''. I fear, however, that by the end of our deliberations it should probably be entitled, ''Elliot inciting the British to welcome imports from abroad—and he's drawn his sword just in case there are any animals left in the UK that he can slaughter''.

This is an ideal opportunity to introduce a new clause that would prevent the slaughter that we have witnessed by offering the alternative of vaccination. I recognise that the new clause contains a chink, in that inclusion of the phrase

    ''any such application shall be granted''

might appear to guarantee the alternative of vaccination to every animal owner in every case. However, the new clause is not unreasonable; it is designed to enable people who love animals to protect their stock and prevent the spread of disease. It would be a positive contribution to the Bill and I hope that it will be welcomed. If we miss this opportunity to encourage vaccination, the legislation will be

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retrospective, closing the door after the horse has bolted, rather than adding useful, positive steps for the future.

Mrs. Winterton: Clause 4 gives power to slaughter vaccinated animals, but the Bill does not guarantee that the Minister will pay full compensation, or that the amount will be equal to full market value. Does my hon. Friend agree that nothing less will be adequate, and does he want the Minister to respond to that point?

Mr. Wiggin: Very definitely. My hon. Friend's point is excellent. We are having this discussion because hon. Members on both sides of the Committee feel that the Bill needs amending. I hope that we will later move on to discuss those who take the trouble to vaccinate, but then have their stock slaughtered and are not adequately compensated. We must put that situation right. The Bill was drafted in August in the heat of the moment when the slaughter was continuing and the body count mounting. In the cooler light of winter, we can perhaps add useful measures to it.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): I always find it a little disturbing when people talk about vaccination in the round as if it were a solution for everything. It might be a solution sometimes, but can the hon. Gentleman tell me which countries use foot and mouth vaccination as a prophylactic policy?

Mr. Wiggin: I believe that Argentina does, but I have not been there. I encouraged Select Committee members to visit the Welsh-speaking people of Patagonia, but they were not having any of it, so my opportunities to investigate further were sadly headed off.

As we progress, we must look towards a prophylactic vaccination policy. If it does not currently exist, the Ministry might, when it has finished examining cow and sheep brains, find the funds to promote more positive vaccination policies. I hope that the Committee will accept the new clause with its alternative to slaughter, and I look forward to voting for it.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): I have considerable sympathy with the aims of the new clause, but it is a prime example of why we should have waited until some of the expert science in the reports was available. We would then have had a real idea of how vaccination can play a part in dealing with future FMD outbreaks.

The new clause has certain deficiencies, and I have a problem with where it says that

    ''any such application shall be granted'',

which farmers could utilise to frustrate and delay. Stopping that happening is one purpose behind the Bill. I do not like some of the Bill's terminology and aims, but I recognise that the Government want to ensure that any future cull is done speedily. I do not, therefore, support the new clause.

This subject, however, needs much fuller discussion, undertaken with the benefit of the knowledge of those who are investigating the matter. It is not only the

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farming community but the general public who write to hon. Members who sometimes show confused understanding of what vaccination means and how it can be used. We need a wider debate, which must be led by proper information from scientific and economic sources, while bearing in mind the social background.

The new clause is difficult to support because it says that any farmer can simply apply and ask for such and such to happen. However, the Minister must ensure that when new information is available from inquiries, which I hope will focus on vaccination as an important part of any future disease control mechanism, we have the opportunity to encompass it under legislation. Vaccination must be properly implemented so that it sensibly plays a part in controlling any future outbreak and only the minimum number of animals would need to be slaughtered.

Mr. Morley: I can confirm that the concerns of the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) about the deficiencies in the clause are right. The principle deficiency is that it gives the right to any individuals to vaccinate their animals if they choose.

During the outbreak, people said that there were many downsides to vaccination—we should not forget that. If we moved to having prophylactic vaccinations, unwelcome consequences in terms of how meat would have to be deboned, hung and heat-treated would follow and cause many difficulties. That fact is not lost on farmers and exporters in the debate on vaccination and although that, in itself, is no reason not to consider vaccination, one should not leave individuals to decide, alone, to vaccinate their herd or flock without having an overall strategy for using vaccination.

The new clause would also be against EU directive 85/511, which says that the detail of any vaccination programme must be submitted to the European Commission for scrutiny and approval, and approval cannot be presumed; the Commission cannot give carte blanche to anyone for vaccination. The reason is that, in these days of international global trade and an EU single market, what one member state does may have implications for another. A logical approach must therefore be taken to vaccination. That is why we and the Dutch are sponsoring a major EU conference next week to explore those issues.

We accept that vaccination should be a weapon in our armoury. It was an option open to us during the epidemic and we never closed the door on it. After detailed scientific evaluation, I think that the conclusion will be that vaccination would not have worked because of the scale and spread of the epidemic. Vaccination could not have been used in the classical fashion of being a disease control measure. However, as the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) rightly stated, technology moves on and tests get better. The tests that were available have not yet been internationally validated, and that is an important fact. I am not saying that they will not be validated.

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Mrs. Winterton: Is it not true that the tests are undergoing farm trials? They have not been validated, but they are well on the way and I hope that, in the near future, we will have more information.

The Minister will be aware that the proper use of modern vaccines, if used early enough, could have brought the British epidemic to a halt. They were effectively used in Holland, where action was taken quickly, although it is true that that country took the political decision to have a 10 km cull, which was not based on scientific advice. That decision meant that Holland took out more animals per outbreak than we did.

Mr. Morley: No, I do not agree with that analysis at all. Independent scientific research will demonstrate that that is a fallacy. When the outbreak began, we had no idea where the disease would occur. It affected the length and breadth of the country and it would not have been possible to use ring vaccination, because that would have meant putting a ring around the whole country. Using suppressor vaccination would also have been difficult.

There is no comparison with the situation in Holland, where people were warned by us and had a small and isolated outbreak that they could move in on quickly. If we had been in that position, we could have dealt with it in exactly the same way. The Dutch Government used vaccination primarily as a means of orderly disposal of the animals. That was a controversial decision in Holland at the time, and in that sense one could argue that it was political. We were never at any time given any scientific advice that vaccination would have been effective in bringing the disease to a halt. If we had been, we would have taken it.

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Mrs. Winterton: Will the Minister concede a point that was made to me by one of my dairy farmers early on in the epidemic when it looked as though the disease was spreading rapidly to Cheshire—that vaccination could have been used to protect dairy herds, bearing in mind that it would not have affected in any way the quality of milk for the market?

Mr. Morley: I can certainly confirm that it would not have affected the quality of milk. Vaccinating for foot and mouth disease does not involve any risk to people. We have made that clear on the DEFRA website, where we give all the pros and cons of vaccination. Vaccination is not a panacea and it probably would not eliminate all culling, but it certainly has a role to play. Improved technology—such as the new test that the hon. Lady mentioned, which identifies antibodies from vaccination and from the virus—will be helpful in any disease control measures. However, that test must complete its validation, as must any test, before we can use it on a wide scale.

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