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Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that when this Government were elected, live pigs were being fed with the remains of dead pigs, with pig slaughterhouse waste and with the waste from pet food manufacture, and that it was this Government who took action more than two years ago to ban those practices, which the previous Administration had done nothing about? Does not it follow, therefore, that anyone feeding any mammalian waste to pigs today is acting unlawfully? I hope that the proper consequences will flow from that.
Will my right hon. Friend also recognise that even in the most dire circumstances in Cumbria he has the overwhelming support of farmers in taking the tough and often complex decisions that he is having to take? In that regard, will he assure me that he will spare no effort, but will use every resource and waste no time to take the steps necessary to isolate the outbreak at Seathwaite in the Cumbrian fells? If we are not able to do that, the consequences will be dire indeed.
Mr. Brown: My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct about the constraints on the feeding of mammalian meat to pigs, except in the special circumstances involving heat treatment that I described to the House. I met Cumbrian farmers yesterday and I was enormously impressed by their fortitude and resilience in the most appalling circumstances. I can promise my right hon. Friend that the Government will stand shoulder to shoulder with his constituents and their neighbours until the disease is eradicated and a recovery programme is firmly in place.
Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall): I thank the Minister for his statement and for his usual courtesy in providing an early copy. We, too, support in principle the measures contained in the statement. I have a few questions, however.
First, the chief scientific adviser a few days ago used words to the effect that this was a disaster waiting to happen. When did he come to that conclusion and, more important, when did he communicate that fact to the Government? Secondly, what arrangements are to be made for the disposal of the waste food that will not now go into swill? Will it be the subject of proper regulation and inspection?
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider permanently increasing the resources of the state veterinary service and, in effect, reversing the cuts that have taken place under the present Administration and under the previous Conservative Government?
Will there be additional port health inspectors to give real teeth to the inspection of imported food to ensure that this situation cannot happen again? Will the Minister also put more resources into the inspection of farms, in particular to enforce the 20-day restriction? It will be of little value if it is not rigidly controlled. Does he accept that vaccination might be a sensible precaution to protect special breeding flocks and cattle herds where valuable gene pools have to be preserved?
We still have not heard about a scheme to assist farmers with cattle over 30 months. That is becoming a real problem as more and more cattle fall into that category. Has the right hon. Gentleman been able to discuss with his colleagues a scheme to deal with that? Has he also considered the problems of healthy stock trapped within restricted areas? In some cases, they are now awaiting welfare disposal, rather than being moved for slaughter so that they go into the food chain. Is not that against basic common sense?
Mr. Brown: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should make it clear that the letter probably refers to the German regional Ministry of Agriculture and not my Ministry. I know of no reason why people cannot visit market towns and other parts of the countryside. I have been very consistent in my advice on that matter--all that people have to do is to stay away from farmed livestock and support the authorities in the necessary work that they are undertaking.
On the hon. Gentleman's perfectly proper question about the over-30-months scheme, I am looking at what can be done to help farmers in these difficult circumstances. I cannot make an announcement today, but I am looking at the matter and I hope to be able to say something about it at some stage.
On vaccination, the hon. Gentleman is right: if we are to use vaccination as part of our disease control strategy, we must make absolutely certain that the consequences have been worked through and that we have a local management plan in the circumstances where we use that strategy. The hon. Gentleman is right that it could help in our desire to preserve rare breeds and animals that are particular to a region. That is one of the arguments in favour of using it. However, we need to be clear precisely how we would use it and why, and what the exit strategy will be.
On the 20-day standstill, yes, it will be inspected. There are other consequences; for example, looking at movement records for sheep, including the possibility of a recording system in the future that is similar to that currently used for cattle--so that the process is more transparent and more easily monitored.
I do not believe that the size of the state veterinary service has been substantially reduced since the Labour party came into government, but we shall clearly have to take a hard look at the ability of the service to respond to a rapidly changing situation when viral disease breaks out among animals.
If the chief scientist said that foot and mouth disease was a disaster waiting to happen, he was certainly behind the times; the disaster has already happened and we are trying to get on top of it. I did not hear him say that; he is advising the Government on the epidemiology. That is useful work.
Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): As we are now burying carcases, will that reduce the need to send them to rendering plants such as the one in my constituency? I am concerned that my right hon. Friend says that there seem to be some unrecorded movements of livestock. In his view, are there perhaps deliberate attempts to hide things for financial gain? There were some dodgy practices leading to BSE. A National Audit Office report on set-aside policy found more than 1,000 irregularities. Is there something wrong in the farming industry that we should know about?
Mr. Brown: I cannot comment on individual cases that may come before the courts. It is perfectly clear from the tracing work undertaken by MAFF officials that some anomalies still need to be reconciled; a possible explanation is the unrecorded movement of livestock.
Where on-farm burial can be used as a disposal route, it is used. There have been about 42 such disposals in Cumbria alone. However, there are also difficulties--the most obvious of which is the presence of the water table. It really is not a good idea to put a large number of dead and decomposing animals into the watercourse.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): In Westminster Hall this morning, I raised the serious problem that farmers will shortly have to decide whether to turn their stock out from the cowsheds on to the pastures, because they will soon run out of fodder. When the stock are turned out on the pastures, that is likely to spread the disease more quickly and to a larger geographical area. Farmers will need clear advice from the Ministry as to whether they should turn their stock out. Will the Minister comment on that this afternoon?
Mr. Brown: Yes. One of the purposes of the proactive cull that I announced some 12 days ago is to make a pre-emptive strike on the disease, which mostly involves sheep but some pigs, so that the disease in sheep can be firmly contained before cattle are let out on to summer pastures, because by and large we have managed to keep the disease out of cattle so far. I know that there are exceptions to that, especially in the hot spots, but this problem is predominantly associated with sheep, and the hon. Gentleman is right that it is important that we get on top of it now. It is also important that we give clear advice to those who are thinking of turning cattle out into pastures that have recently been vacated by sheep.
Mr. Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne, North): May I reassure my right hon. Friend that in my constituency, adjacent to Heddon-on-the-Wall, there is a clear understanding that the sole cause of the spread of the disease is its virulence?
However, there is confusion among the people on the question of vaccination--which I believe has been fuelled today. There is not an understanding of the distinction between vaccination as a way of preventing the entry of foot and mouth into a body of beasts or a country, and