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Lord Greaves: I remember when some of us were promoting the benefits of devolution to sceptical people such as the noble Baroness and the Labour Party—or many of her colleagues, if not the noble Baroness herself. I am grateful for her further assurance about consultation and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 not moved.]

Lord Livsey of Talgarth moved Amendment No. 82:

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 82 addresses the vexed question of the safe composting of catering waste. There are several ways of achieving our aim. One might include incineration. There has been some agreement in this debate that increased incineration is not necessarily desirable. There are other methods of achieving temperatures, such as considerable heat treatment. We are particularly concerned that composting does not necessarily achieve high enough temperatures to dispose of bugs or viruses that are nefarious not only to animal health, but also to human health. Given the quantity of catering waste that is

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now being used in various ways, including quite a lot going into landfill, it is vital that we treat this waste in a way that does not encourage the spread of disease.

It has been said that compost will be spread on the land. It has also been estimated that an enormous area will be required on which to spread it. If the compost—particularly kitchen waste—has not been properly treated, we have a dangerous problem. It can seep into water courses, which is very problematical in that it could find its way into human drinking water. It can be spread around by vermin. When I was very close to the 1967 outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Northumberland, I remember the column inches that were written about seagulls spreading the disease. Whether they actually did so was uncertain. None the less, the birds certainly spread the material around and there were many mysterious outbreaks of foot and mouth disease thought to be spread by birds. Vermin such as foxes and rats will undoubtedly consume some of this material. If it has not been treated adequately we will have a considerable risk of spread of disease. Many other animals, such as stray dogs, may be involved in spreading this material around.

As I have said, it is possible that composting temperatures are not hot enough. As I asked on Second Reading, why has it been necessary for animals associated with foot and mouth disease to be rendered when it is possible for imported food that goes into waste, which may contain various diseases, not to be treated similarly? The provisions in the Bill for composting catering waste could be described as "negligent" in terms of what I have just been talking about. I hasten to add immediately, before the Minister admonishes me, that it has been brought to my attention that a risk assessment has been carried out, as the Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, said in answer to a question in another place. However, I do not necessarily accept the veracity of that risk assessment or its conclusions. I would like to know who carried it out and whether veterinary experts and other scientists who would address these matters in considerable detail were involved.

Amendment No. 129 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, refers to very specific temperatures and periods. I am sure that the noble Lord will put his amendment very adequately, so I will leave the detail to him. Amendment No. 129 specifies very accurately what needs to be done—if you like, it is an alternative approach to the same problem. This particularly important issue is a weakness in the Bill affecting animal health and possibly human health. There is a great deal of this stuff about—it is estimated that one third of the food consumed in the UK is consumed in catering establishments, restaurants and other places. Those of us who occasionally pass by these establishments and see the amount of waste that comes from them understand that it is a considerable problem. If such waste is to be separated out from landfill, it needs to be treated properly, for the reasons stated. I beg to move.

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6 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Amendment No. 129 is grouped with this amendment and addresses precisely the same subject. I prefer my amendment to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, simply because it is precise—although I have to confess that it is not precise enough. I am told that our typist made an error and "80 degrees" should actually read "98 degrees". I suspect that we were catching up with the science, rather than the typist's fingers, but I apologise to the Committee for that. It would help if the Committee would read "98 degrees" for "80 degrees", rather than having to present the amendment anew another time in precisely the same form in order simply to get the temperature right.

We are talking about a very serious problem of biosecurity. It is almost certain—although it will never be absolutely certain because we will never get down to the detailed analysis—that the foot and mouth outbreak of more than a year ago was started because some infected meat or bone material came into this country, went through a commercial catering establishment of some sort, went into the swill chain, went through the swill chain having been inadequately heated and prepared and came out at the end as a live virus which cost this country billions. That is what we are talking about and that is not the only potential offender. Swine fever is another. It is believed—although this can never be proved—that the swine fever outbreak in East Anglia four or five years ago was started by someone chucking a ham sandwich over a hedge.

Fowl pest is a third disease that could be spread in this way. It has not hit the headlines in recent years, but it may well come back one day. Composted domestic biodegradable waste that was spread on agricultural land—or even in the garden of someone who kept pet goats—could cause a foot and mouth outbreak.

We have an open gate to unpredictable disaster. I am not bothered about official assessments that say there is very little risk. They will never be able to say that there is no risk. As long as there is a risk, we face this dreadful lottery. It may hit us only once every 30 years, as with foot and mouth disease, but, considering the cost, it would be better if it were not possible for it to hit us at all.

The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, coupled this possibility with the possibility of spreading human disease via something that leaks from compost into ground water, coming back via the water supplies. We already have problems in that regard because, as we know, London's water is used at least five times between Teddington weir and the Becton outfall. The water is recycled, recycled and recycled. I would like to think that we are on top of that problem, but once you start to go out of the normal means of dealing with these problems and put the stuff into the natural cycle, you are opening entirely another door. This is very serious and we need to think about it carefully.

My instinct tells me that we should avoid—and continue avoiding to the maximum possible extent—the idea that composting is a partial solution to dealing

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with domestic biodegradable waste. If this stuff were ever to be used in agriculture or in gardens, we would have a potential for another very expensive disease disaster.

There are other ways of dealing with these wastes. I do not like incineration, but technology is moving on. I mentioned some of the other systems on Second Reading, so I do not intend to go over that ground now. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, and I are after the same principle. We want a secure way of dealing with this problem. The Minister will reveal in a moment whether she is minded to accept what we have suggested. I look forward to her reply but I hope she will accept that it is a problem that we shall have to deal with. The question is not whether we deal with it but how we deal with it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I shall deal first with the specific questions about risk assessment raised by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey. Yes, vets and scientists were involved and there was a peer review study, the results of which will be available on the DEFRA website in the New Year.

I shall also deal with the related issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. In any process, it is almost impossible to achieve a no-risk result. I believe all Members of the Committee accept that, whatever strategy is adopted to avoid the spread of disease, that is the case. In many ways, the risk assessment showed that the alternative to landfill was even more dangerous than composting because of the heat treatment.

Lord Dixon-Smith: I do not regard landfill as an alternative to composting. We should be absolutely clear about that. Landfill is used at present, and I agree that that is what we are trying to get away from. If one took all domestic biodegradable waste and put it through industrial-type processes, one would end up with an irreducible minimum material that might need to be disposed of in some other way on the land. I do not believe that we should be complacent about landfill. The whole purpose of the Bill is to get rid of it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: As a government, we recognise that this is a major issue. We believe that composting catering waste has an important role to play in helping local authorities to meet both their recycling and composting targets and the directive targets. As a result, composting waste is already a component of our strategy to achieve a sustainable waste management system. Therefore, it is not a matter of whether or not it should be included as part of the strategy in the Bill. However, in the light of the serious level of concern expressed by Members of the Committee, it is important to recognise that at present composting and biogas treatment of catering waste are effectively banned by the Animal By-Products Order 1999, as amended.

Drawing on the results of the risk assessment commissioned by the department, a draft amending the Animal By-Products Order went out for consultation on 20th November. The overall objective

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of this work is to develop a set of rules that will allow the composting of catering waste to take place economically while fully protecting animal and public health. The amended order will lay down the processes that will be permitted, including those relating to time and temperature, because there is obviously a relationship between the time process and the temperature process.

In the light of what both noble Lords have said, perhaps they could help the department to ensure that organisations and individuals who have views on the time/temperature requirements respond to the consultation before the closing date of 12th February 2003. I hope that that helps Members of the Committee. Where people challenge the premises of the proposed revised order, it is important that they act quickly. They also need to ensure that that applies to anyone else who they believe wishes to be consulted. That is outwith the scope of the Bill—it is a separate procedure. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: I thank the Minister for that response, which I regard as a responsible and constructive contribution to our debate. None the less, had we the power in this Committee to vote on the matter, I would have called for a Division. This is an issue about which we need to stop and think very hard.

References were made to disposal authorities meeting composting targets. In my view, given the degree of risk, this is not a good enough reason for achieving sustainable targets, as referred to in the Minister's reply. We are talking about other reasons, not just meeting the targets of disposal authorities and local authorities. I accept that the Minister has shown great concern about that and that he has taken the whole matter on board.

I comment that there must have been a very good reason why, in the draft order concerning by-products of 1999 to which she referred, those substances were specifically excluded. It now appears that legislation will be introduced to include them, albeit by specifying temperatures, as we have requested, and time of exposure to the cleaning up methods.

The consultation to which the Minister has referred is very important. It needs the widest possible publicity. Can she ensure that the department communicates fully with bodies such as the NFU, the Farmers Union of Wales, the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, NFU Scotland and other bodies like the CLA, so that they are all aware of what is happening and so that they can participate in the consultation? I hope that that will provide a comprehensive response that the Government can use. However, I remain uneasy about the process. In this instance we must avoid the horse bolting through the stable door. Does the Minister wish to say anything further?

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