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The Earl of Lindsay: I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has focused on risk perception. Undoubtedly the longer term consequences of the supposition made by SEAC, both in March and again today--the first was made on no direct evidence whatsoever but merely on a likelihood, and that of today was made on the basis of experimentally transmissible evidence--have all arisen from the perception and understanding of the wider public of the risk that scientists seek to explain. I am sure the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, with regard to this area, is relevant.
The fact that I said that we were formalising the status quo is of great relevance because the danger otherwise is that the public may think that sheeps' heads have regularly and widely gone into the human food chain and that is not the case. SEAC has not concentrated on mutton any more than it has concentrated on lamb. It has concentrated merely on the brains of sheep; not even on the tongues of sheep. Sheep's tongues will still be available. Therefore, the thought of a mad mutton crisis, or that that might become a label that the press use, for instance, would be very misleading indeed because the simple scientific focus by the SEAC experts is on the sheep's brain itself.
Lord Gisborough: My Lords, we have had scares about eggs, about beef and about sheep. Could the noble Earl the Minister say to what extent there is now control so that these scares will not be followed by a scare about chickens, ducks and fish?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, there are so many scientists in the world who need to feed the mouths of their children, as it were, and at the same time such great thirst among the media to suggest that things which we all find familiar are not as comfortable as we might have thought, that we are likely to have continued doubts cast on many of those things which we would otherwise trust.
I would refer my noble friend back to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, about risk perception. If the Government are advised by experts that there is a potential threat to human health, they must act on the theoretical or potential risk if there is action that they can sensibly take. What happens thereafter is what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, articulated; namely, that the perception changes as it is interpreted by others.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is it not the case that sheep are very rarely fed on concentrates? In fact, lowland sheep are normally only so fed at lambing time. If no sheep has been fed with meat and bonemeal since 1989 and a sheep's life is perhaps nine or 10 years at the most, there should be no sheep in the national flock, in the food chain, that have been affected by BSE. Could the noble Earl confirm that please?
I should also like to know how it is proposed to keep a check on the possible spread of BSE in flocks. With BSE in cattle it is intermittent. You get two or three in a herd. I understand it is the same with scrapie in sheep. Many farmers, when their sheep die--and this is particularly so with hill sheep--leave them out on the hill for the foxes. Lowland sheep are very often sent to hunt kennels. I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer my final question immediately. Is there any indication of hounds in kennels suffering from encephalopathy as a result of eating sheep's brains? I imagine that the hounds in kennels eat the whole of the sheep.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am not aware of any evidence of hounds suffering from encephalopathy. The best I can tell the noble Countess is that all scrapie controls are now under review, both in the UK and in a European context. We do not feel that there is a need to be unduly concerned about current practices because of the tight focus that SEAC have currently employed on the sheep's brain and its head rather than on other parts of the sheep's body.
In relation to the banning of meat and bonemeal in ruminant food, as the noble Countess pointed out, that was enacted in this country in 1988 and therefore, if that is a possible pathway of BSE in sheep as has been shown by experiment in the laboratory, then this country should show a much lower profile in terms of the threat that it poses than those countries which have not or only recently banned the use of ruminant protein in ruminant feed rations.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I certainly hope not. The consultation paper published today will focus on the recommendation that only the sheep's head is kept out of the food chain, as is the case with sheep's heads at the moment. The noble Lady's rack of lamb remains safe for the moment.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, Britain has a long history of using legislation to provide safeguards for public health and animal welfare. However, there are some requirements which, although introduced for good reasons many years ago, are now outdated or have been superseded by the introduction of subsequent legislation.
The draft order before the House would repeal provisions of the Slaughterhouses Act 1974 and the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1980 which no longer provide adequate protection or which are now outdated and provided for in other ways. In doing so the order will also remove burdens on slaughterhouse operators--a sector which is already well regulated--without compromising any of the necessary safeguards for public health and animal welfare.
I turn now to the detail of the order. There is at present a dual licensing system for slaughterhouses. Since 1993 slaughterhouses have been licensed by the appropriate Minister, under procedures introduced to meet Community obligations. However, under the 1974 Act there remains a continuing requirement for slaughterhouses to be licensed annually by their local authority. In Scotland there is a continued requirement for slaughterhouses to be registered by the local authority. The order would remove the burden of dual licensing by repealing the local authority licensing or registration requirements.
The order would also repeal the powers for local authorities to make by-laws in respect of the sanitary operation and management of slaughterhouses. Adequate safeguards already exist as those aspects are now covered by the new arrangements for licensing, hygiene and inspection to internationally agreed standards, and uniform enforcement arrangements now apply in all slaughterhouses.
Local authorities are currently required to take certain animal welfare requirements into account when issuing animal licences to slaughterhouses. To ensure that those important matters continue to be taken into consideration the order would amend the Fresh Meat (Hygiene and Inspection) Regulations 1995 to make compliance with the relevant requirements of the welfare at slaughter legislation a condition of the issue of a licence by the appropriate Minister.
The order would also provide for non-compliance with those animal welfare requirements to be a reason to revoke a slaughterhouse licence. Compliance with welfare requirements is monitored on a regular basis by the Meat Hygiene Service, and audited by the State Veterinary Service.
The order would remove two outdated burdens on slaughterhouse owners in England and Wales, restrictions which were never imposed in Scotland. First, it is proposed to remove the restriction on the use of part of a slaughterhouse as a dwelling. That prohibition was introduced to protect anyone from having to live in a slaughterhouse. No objections have been received to the proposal to lift that prohibition. In fact it has been welcomed as an opportunity to improve the security of slaughter premises. Should anyone want to live "above the shop", all appropriate planning, building and hygiene controls would continue to apply.
Secondly, licensed slaughterhouses and knacker's yards in England and Wales are obliged to display a legible sign in a conspicuous position stating that the premises are licensed. That requirement dates from food and drugs legislation of the 1930s and has its origin in public health controls of the previous century.
It has been suggested that that provision should be retained as people have a right to know where slaughtering is carried out. When the requirement was introduced there were many thousands of individual slaughterers. It is possible now to request lists of all licensed slaughterhouses or knacker's yards--which are many fewer in number--from the appropriate agriculture department. The right to that information therefore continues to be publicly available.
The order also provides an opportunity to correct an error in the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1980. A revised definition of "slaughterhouse" was inserted into the 1980 Act by the Food Safety Act 1990, but that definition contained a drafting error which had the effect of imposing the same standards of construction on all premises where animals are slaughtered for human consumption.
That means that in Scotland any farm buildings where the occasional beast may be slaughtered for the owner's own consumption must meet the same structural standards as a commercial slaughterhouse. No such imposition has been made on the farming community in England or Wales. This order will lift that unnecessary burden.
Since it was first laid before Parliament in October 1995, this order has been the subject of careful study by the House of Commons Deregulation Committee and this House's Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. Subject to some minor points which have now been incorporated into the order, both committees recommended acceptance. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th February be approved [13th Report from the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee].--(The Earl of Lindsay.)
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