Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (M15)
At her appearance before the Agriculture Committee
on 11 December, the Minister of State, Joyce Quin, undertook to
supply further information on a number of topics of interest to
the Committee. This is set out below.
Has the UK Government changed its position having
supported EU help for Dutch pig farmers?
No. It is true that when this issue came up
in Management Committee in 1997-98, the UK supported European
Commission proposals on exceptional support for the Netherlands.
However, there was no change of policy nor any inconsistency in
the UK's approach. The Dutch pig market had totally collapsed
following the swift spread of CSF through the pig herd, ending
up with over 500 outbreaks. Introducing exceptional market support
measures was therefore appropriate. As difficult as things have
been for those caught up in the East Anglian outbreak, the UK
market has not been distorted by the 16 outbreaks we have suffered.
Indeed, market prices have continued to rise in line with seasonal
trends. Had distortion taken place, perhaps as a result of more
outbreaks, then an approach to the Commission would have been
an option open to the Government.
Two further points are relevant, although not
conclusive. The cost of exceptional support measures are now divided
50:50 between the EU budget and the national exchequer (the split
in 1997-98 was 75:25). As a result of the Fontainebleau rebate,
this means that 82 per cent of the cost would fall on the UK taxpayer.
Also, the control of these support measures is very bureaucratic
and burdensome and would not be welcomed by the industry. Even
under the less burdensome rules applying in 1997-98, the Dutch
government is still in dispute with the Commission on whether
the controls were correctly applied.
Will the Development Scheme have an end date?
By its nature, a Development Scheme would tend
to be long-term so that it was available for other purposes should
the need arise. It is clear that the PW(D)S top-up payments will
have first call on the levy collected but the scheme will continue
until such time as its trustees decide to end it. What has also
been made clear by Nick Brown is that the scheme could and should
change if the working party looking at the commercial impact of
animal disease controls recommended a substantially different
Does the Minister have the power to kill any or
all the pigs in an infected area?
The Minister may, in the case of swine fever,
only cause to be slaughtered an animal which is affected or suspected
of being infected with disease or one which has been exposed to
infection of swine fever (Section 32(1) of the Animal Health Act).
These powers cover the slaughter of confirmed cases and dangerous
The Minister declares an infected area when
he is satisfied that swine fever is prevalent within the area.
The purpose of the infected area is to prevent the spread of disease
by restricting the movement of pigs within that area. In the case
of swine fever we do not believe that all animals in an infected
area are infected or exposed to infection. The Minister cannot
therefore slaughter all of them and pay 100 per cent compensation.
We do, however, believe that some of the pigs in the area may
have been so infected or exposed but, when the infected area is
declared, we do not know which pigs have been infected or exposed.
The infected area movement restrictions and procedures allow us
to determine which pigs have been infected or exposed. This approach
has been borne out by the current outbreak. For example there
was an estimate that in mid October there were 1.1 million finished
pigs restricted by infected area Orders but to date we have only
slaughtered some 75,000 (7 per cent) for disease control purposes
because it was believed that they were either infected or exposed
to infection. There is no rational or scientific basis for believing
that all pigs in an infected area are infected or will be exposed
What contingency planning took place after Dutch
The principles of animal disease control are
similar whether it is foot and mouth disease, swine fever or other
epidemic disease for which we have a slaughter and compensation
policy. As part of the process of training its staff and in order
to inform the emergency planning process the SVS carries out animal
disease simulation exercises on a regular basis. From 1994 to
1999 it carried out 84 simulation exercises. (1994-23; 1995-10;
1996-11; 1997-10; 1998-16; 1999-14). In addition, MAFF headquarters
has a nominated emergency team, which carries out regular exercises
on HQ procedures including the designation and drawing up of infected
The disease controls in place clearly work as
the major outbreak of CSF in the Netherlands in 1997-98 spread
into Germany, Belgium, Italy and Spain but not into the UK.
Why agree to a 16 per cent reduction in capacity
under the restructuring scheme?
EU state aid rules say that for a restructuring
scheme to be acceptable under the Treaty, it must include a provision
for the beneficiaries to reduce their businesses by at least 16
per cent. (No doubt the 16 per cent reflects an EU compromise).
The rules were largely designed to deal with applications for
restructuring aid from large individual companies (eg Rover or
Air France) rather than with an overall (agriculture) sector that
has a large number of individual businesses.
The Outgoers element of our scheme sets out
to achieve this requirement by reducing sow capacity (not actual
sow numbers) by 16 per cent compared to June 1998. Although we
argued strongly that this part of the scheme alone met the rules'
requirements, the Commission did not agree. It insisted that larger
pig businesses benefiting from Ongoers must also contribute a
16 per cent capacity reduction (small agriculture enterprises
(SAEs) are exempt from this requirement).
The Government believes that we had no choice
but to accept the requirement in respect of Ongoers, as 95 per
cent of pig producers can benefit from that part of the scheme
without reducing capacity (the alternative was to abandon the
scheme). Larger producers will have to make a decision about whether
or not it is worth their while to participate, given the need
to sign up to a reduction in capacity.
19 December 2000