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5.3 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke for moving the Motion. If he takes it to a Division, I have already told him that I shall support him.

I start by quoting the old saying:

I add to that, "and research findings". That is not necessarily to impute dishonesty to research scientists in general. That is not my intention. But it is true that frequently scientists, like doctors and theologians, contradict each other. Also, the results of research are often incomplete and a year later the same scientists will come up with something that is absolutely different from, and indeed the opposite of, what they were saying before.

A fact to which attention has already been drawn is that food poisoning scares are often media-driven and are becoming too frequent. I do not accept that the public are as afraid of being poisoned as some politicians and some of the media suggest. As the noble Viscount, Lord Bledisloe, said, that was borne out in the 10 days following the announcement of the ban on beef on the bone when, according to reports, the public rushed to buy before it was too late. I bought some oxtail myself.

There are well known risks associated with certain kinds of food. Quite recently my wife became ill through eating shellfish. We all know that that is possible in the case of oysters, lobster and prawns and that in certain cases shellfish poisoning can be fatal. We eat the foods, understanding the risks involved, because we like them. Heaven forbid that I should suggest a ban on shellfish because they are dangerous. We know that, and we are prepared to take the risk. So why can we not be allowed to take the much lesser risk associated with eating beef on the bone?

Her Majesty's Government and some noble Lords say that a lifting of the export ban by the European Union will be helped by the imposition of a ban on beef on the bone. I wonder. I may be wrong, but I think there is misapprehension about the reasons for the world-wide export ban. For climatic and other reasons, British beef is known to be the best in the world. None of our European partners produces anything approaching its

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quality. They obviously do not like that as it damages their own livestock industries. So although BSE is common in many European countries, they use the fact that we are more open in these matters to institute a ban on our world-wide exports. It is extraordinary to me and to many other people that they are even able to do that. How is it possible that the late government could have signed away such a vital right--the right to sell one's produce to willing buyers? Shortly after the ban was announced, I passed one of Garfunkel's restaurants. In the window was a notice:

    "Only imported beef served here".

There's patriotism for you.

At that time I believed, and I still believe, that sheep will be next. After all, our hills and pastures produce the best lamb in the world and Europe does not like it, as we saw when the French farmers attacked our sheep transports. The brutality of those attacks on innocent animals makes fox hunting a humanitarian exercise. But few animal lovers seemed to care or notice, any more than they care or notice that hundreds and thousands, indeed millions, of cattle have been slaughtered on the flimsiest of pretexts in order to satisfy continental vets. Some people are now apparently cooking up a dossier to enable them to do the same to our sheep as they did to our cattle.

Reverting to the way in which we have treated and are treating our cattle herds, I should like, for the first time in my life, to quote Gandhi. I do so not because I always agreed with him nor because I am a Hindu. This is what he said:

    "The cow is the mother of the whole human race!"

There is some truth in that. The cow and all cattle should be treated with respect. We use them and they deserve something better in return than wholesale massacre without good reason. There is an understanding between all good stockmen and their animals that they should be given the best care possible in return for the fact that they are milked and ultimately killed. Crucial to their care is that they should not be killed unnecessarily.

I am glad that the right reverend Prelate is present to hear what I shall say now. I believe strongly that by the slaughter of nearly 2 million cattle, we have broken that compact. I believe that God will judge us for what we have done.

How long have we got to wait before the Government and our Euro enthusiasts wake up to what is happening? Our livestock industry is being comprehensively destroyed and with it much of our traditional farming community. Neither this Government nor the last one are or were prepared to say to our European partners, "Enough is enough".

I have no interest to declare except to say that 25 years ago I was a livestock farmer. I thank God that I am spared from being one now. My sympathy is with the farmers and their families and their animals. To a lesser extent I sympathise with butchers and the public, including myself, who are now banned from eating T-bone steak and oxtail for no good reason and look like being banned from eating many other things and from doing many other things like smoking and fox hunting.

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Finally, I ask one question of the noble Lord who is to reply. I thought it was to be the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, but he is not in his place. Are we allowed to buy foreign T-bone steak or oxtail, Dutch, French or wherever it comes from? If so, I hope that no one and certainly none of your Lordships will buy it,

5.8 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard: My Lords, first I wish to thank my noble friends Lord Kimball and Lord Willoughby de Broke for calling for this debate on the Motion. I would also like to declare an interest in so far as I am a landowner in Scotland and my farm tenant has around 100 prime beef cattle which have never suffered from BSE, as they have only been fed on grass or silage in the winter.

One of the things that puzzles me about the current legislation on the sale of beef on the bone is that imported bones can be used not only for soap, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals but also for bouillon, stock cubes and gravy granules. How do we know that they are from BSE-free herds? We in the British Isles now have the toughest rules in the world to eradicate BSE. No beef is sold to consumers that is over 30 months old.

In 1998, of the 2.2 million cattle to be slaughtered for human food only three beasts will be near enough to the end of the incubation period for there to be the possibility of infectivity in their dorsal root ganglia. The statistical risk to humans from eating meat on the bone is so infinitesimal as to be negligible.

Furthermore, "bone in beef" represents only 5 per cent. of home beef consumption. This tiny risk is not a basis for prescriptive legislation and is overcautious. Consumers should be able to make their own judgment, having been acquainted with all the facts.

This latest ban goes far beyond the advice given by SEAC. I see here a parallel with the Cullen Report on handguns, when an expert was appointed by the Government and then his advice was totally ignored. The result of this ban is further to damage confidence in the British beef industry, which has already been brought to its knees. It is my opinion, having read the findings of the various scientific bodies, that meat on the bone from cattle of six months old or less is totally safe and that meat on the bone from cattle up to 30 months old is for all practical purposes safe although there is in theory an infinitesimal risk.

This latest piece of legislation has brought us no nearer to getting the export ban lifted. We all know that other EU countries are affected by BSE, but they keep quiet about it while we in the British Isles have come clean and have used our best endeavours to eradicate it. Yet still the export ban persists.

In conclusion, the most vocal of the EU countries is of course Germany, seconded by its old ally Austria. Perhaps I am being oversensitive but I cannot help detecting an element of revenge in their current implacable attitude to British beef. This applies in particular to the case of Northern Ireland, where the tracing scheme can actually prove that individual animals are BSE free.

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5.11 p.m.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, it is now some 22 months since the government announcement of the possible link between BSE and the new variant CJD. The announcement had an immediate and devastating impact on the entire UK beef industry. Despite some recent encouraging signs of a recovery in beef consumption, due largely to the successful marketing campaign run by the Meat and Livestock Commission, the industry remains in crisis. Producer prices remain depressed, imports are being sucked in due to the strength of the pound, the beef export ban remains in place and the industry is faced with increasing costs which producers in other EU member states do not face. On top of all this came the announcement on 3rd December by the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Jack Cunningham, that he had taken the decision to ban sales of beef on the bone. While no government can take chances when it comes to food safety, decisions which can have a massive financial impact on an industry must surely be based on risk assessment and not be governed by what will best suit our European partners.

SEAC's advice to the Minister on dorsal root ganglia clearly indicated that there was only an extremely remote risk of a case of nvCJD arising from exposure to infectivity in these ganglia in an animal entering the human food chain. In percentage terms there is only a one in 6 million chance of someone dying from eating beef on the bone. Faced with that minuscule risk, the Minister's decision to ban the sale of beef on the bone was not justified. If in future we abide by this principle without paying proper attention to risk assessment, we would stop many aspects of our industrial production on health grounds. Oysters, which have been mentioned, would certainly go; the processing of shell fish would stop; smoking certainly should finish because that definitely accounts for a great many deaths; motor cycles must be off the road; bicycles should not be allowed; and motor cars certainly should not be allowed. That is clearly not an acceptable position.

Although we understand the precautionary principle that the Ministry is trying to adopt, in future such action must take risks more seriously into account. Surely a more appropriate response would have been for consumers to have been provided with the facts and be allowed to make their own purchasing decisions. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that consumers resent being dictated to by the Government and wish to make their own decisions.

On a more positive note, I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the launch of Assured British Meat. This independent body, funded jointly by MAFF and the Meat and Livestock Commission, will provide independent assurance of basic standards for British meat. Assured British Meat will certify only those who adhere to specific standards, which cover food safety, animal welfare and environmental criteria. This new initiative is surely the best way of reassuring customers that British beef is of the highest quality and safe to eat.

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