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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I share the noble Lord's respect for his noble friend Lord Plumb. I recognise the plea he put in for a public inquiry into the outbreak and his suggestion about its leadership. He will understand that it is not for me to respond directly to that. I must say that sometimes it has felt as though we have been conducting a public inquiry as we have gone along, but that is another issue.
The work within Europe is forward-looking. Of course it must draw on our experience and that of the Dutch in this outbreak. However, there is also the possibility that in the light of scientific advance the vaccination policy that has been commonplace throughout Europe will be looked at again. Most of all, I hope that we can use this opportunity as a lever to change the common agricultural policy.
Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, I want to ask the Minister about animal carcasses left on farms. I am sure that she will agree that in human or environmental terms it is not acceptable to leave dead animals on farms unburied for in excess of 24 hours, particularly as the weather is getting warmer.
In view of the difficulties in Devon, will she institute a review of on-farm burial where that is practical and can be carried out quickly? Where it is not practical, will she do what has been done elsewhere so successfully and set a target time for the removal of slaughtered animals if necessary to a suitable storage point if no immediate burial or other disposal point is available? It must be wrong to leave the animals as they are at present.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the seriousness of the position in Devon is beyond doubt. It would be wrong to offer my noble friend a review of on-farm burial. It has been an option from the beginning of the outbreak. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to put it in place because of the geology and the water table in particular, which have caused problems in Devon. There have been problems as regards burial not only on farms but at a number of sites which have been urgently examined and where it has not been possible. I assure the noble Baroness that I understand the consequences for the individual and the
I suspect that there will not be a single answer and that a variety of means will be used. We are setting ourselves targets for clearing up the carcasses. Anyone who heard Brigadier Birtwistle on the radio this morning would acknowledge what he has managed to do in Cumbria, where there was a similar problem some time ago. We need to concentrate on the one remaining area in which there are a large numbers of carcasses awaiting disposal.
Lord Palmer: My Lords, as I speak every single animal on my farm is being destroyed, and I am not exaggerating. Do the figures to which the Minister referred in the Statement relate to the whole of the UK or purely to England and Wales? Furthermore, can she clarify the position re vaccination at the present time?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as for the animals awaiting slaughter and the carcasses, the figures relate to Great Britain, and I believe that the same applies to the number of animals that have been taken. If that is incorrect, I shall inform the noble Lord.
As far as concerns vaccination, we have not progressed a great deal further from our Statement about the possibility of limited vaccination in parts of Cumbria and Devon, for which we have cover from the European Union. That would be vaccination to live, not simply as a way to smooth over disposal. Such vaccination would not be across species; it would be for cattle. The Government would be willing to instigate vaccination as a measure en route to regaining FMD-free status, not FMD-free with vaccination. But we recognised that that policy could not be implemented if there was no buy-in on the part of the farmers involved because they felt that there was, in turn, no buy-in from consumers or retailers. The enormously strong opposition to vaccination among those representing farmers has made it very difficult to go forward with that policy. If one looks at the present Dutch experience, the introduction of a limited vaccination policy is not an easy ride.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I am sure that the House is grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement about progress in the control of the foot and mouth outbreak. Does the noble Baroness agree that, despite criticism as to what should have been done in the early stages of the outbreak, the present drastic policy has not only reduced the outbreak to controllable levels but, in the long run, will provide a greater safeguard to the national herds of this country than other means of control? Does the Minister also agree that the statement that contiguous culling is a necessary procedure emphasises that the disease is spread contiguously from animal to animal and farm to farm? The reason for contiguous culling is to take the infected animals out of circulation before they can pass on the infection.
The noble Baroness dealt with vaccination. I believe we all agree that there may well be a case for vaccination of specific groups of animals, such as dairy cattle, but it now appears that the danger to that sector of the livestock industry is receding as a result of the culling policy which takes out the infection and the fact that in certain areas of the country restrictions are now being removed. I hope the Minister agrees that it is right to have a local analysis of the situation. A local individual knows much better than, say, Whitehall what should and should not be done.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right that we need to focus regimes on particular areas of the country. For example, those which have had no cases at all can have different movement arrangements from areas which have had high infectivity. I also understand the desire to have individual assessment of farms. The noble Lord described very well why there is danger in simply waiting to see when disease emerges because there is a possibility of it spreading. When we emerge from this it will be impossible for any of us to say whether the process would have been quicker or longer had another course of action been undertaken. One can never put the clock back and re-run history.
Sometimes people tend to overemphasise time. The noble Lord referred to the possibility of mistakes being made early on or policies requiring change. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, said that animals had been waiting for six weeks in the welfare disposal scheme. The scheme was announced only on 22nd March, so I do not believe that any animals could have been waiting for six weeks.
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I should like to return to scientific advice, to which my noble friend Lord Geraint has referred. The Minister referred to advice on the ground. The noble Baroness will be aware that on a worldwide basis highly qualified scientists have been critical of the advice available here. I am sure that, like me, the Minister has read the article in The Times this morning by Magnus Linklater which raises this matter. At the end of the Statement the Government said that they would further investigate the whole question of how the outbreak was handled and what we might do another time. Can the noble Baroness confirm that that will be looked at in whatever they do on that front?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it would be nice if there was such a thing as unanimous scientific advice which everyone agreed was the best and which told one that there was only one thing to do. I am afraid that that is not the position. Scientists vary in their views. It is not possible simply to say that one is getting the right scientific advice. The Chief Scientific Adviser has brought together a group of scientists, as he has brought together several different groups of epidemiologists, so that one is not relying simply on one person. There are always dissenting voices. That is in the nature of scientific debate and advance. It is right that we have that debate and dispute. I ask the
Lord Dubs: My Lords, many of us will have been pleased with the tribute my noble friend paid to the staff of MAFF in their difficult job in present circumstances. Perhaps I may suggest that the same tribute should be paid to the staff working in the agriculture departments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which is the one that I know particularly well. I should like to put a specific question about the disposal of cattle which are over 30 months old. Can my noble friend say a little more about that disposal and the potential hazards from BSE?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am happy to extend support to everyone in the field, in whatever part of the United Kingdom. Whether they be in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England, they have worked enormously hard; and equally colleagues in devolved authorities have been extremely supportive and helpful.
As to the disposal of cattle, there has been a very careful risk assessment throughout the period. The advice which followed the special meeting of SEAC was that the decision tree, if you like, of best disposal route for cattle would always be, first, rendering and, secondly, incineration. There is a different decision tree of possible routes. But the distinction that is made is between animals born after the ban--post-August 1996--and OTMS animals, based on the fact that the BSE epidemic has progressed since that time. But the committee's advice is being taken and implemented as far as concerns the disposal of cattle.
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