Several hon. Members rose
The Chairman: Order. So far, questions and answers have been lengthy. I appeal to hon. Members and the Minister to be briefer. I hope that we may speed up in the second half of the question period.
Mr. Paice: Thank you, Mrs. Roe. I will endeavour to be brief.
I want to take the Minister back to the question of science raised by the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand). Disposal serves two purposes: to get rid of the material and to increase safety for humans and animals. What scientific evidence exists about the impact on the pathogenswhether anthrax or botulism, which the Minister described, swine fever, foot and mouth or one of the many othersof burial, pressure cooking to the standards proposed, burial in lime pits and rendering? How effectively are the pathogens destroyed by the various disposal methods listed in the regulation?
Ms Quin: Some of these questions are technical and difficult to answer speedily. As I tried to explain in my answer to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight, different experts assess the effectiveness of the various disposal routes differently. In terms of composting, we remain to be convinced that the organisms are effectively destroyed. The pressure cooking route seems to be effective, depending on the category of material in question. There are no differences between the European Commission and us on that aspect. Apart from on composting and biogas, we are in broad agreement with our European colleagues,. I am aware that that is a short answer to a question that has many different ramifications. It can be answered more sensibly at greater length or in writing to Committee members.
Mr. Quinn: I have in mind some of my local farmers. I am especially concerned about some aspects of enforcement of the regulation. Has the Minister been able to discuss with colleagues from European partner countries establishing a level playing field throughout the European Union? That would ensure that enforcement is carried out on a standardised cross-border basis. As a result, our farmers in particular will not have to endure some of the things that they feel that they endure at present.
Ms Quin: That is a sound point, which always guides our approach to such regulations. A genuinely uniform pattern needs to be created across the European Union, under which producers and industries in different countries are not unfairly disadvantaged. At the same time, the negotiations are quite tricky because, clearly, no one wants to err on the side of risk. Given the history of BSE in the UK and the difficulties that it has caused for our partner countries as well, it behoves us to be in the forefront of taking sound, science-based and, as far as possible, risk-free measures. That is our approach. We analyse closely with the farming industry the effects of such proposals and regular consultations are held. My noble Friend Baroness Hayman has provided information to the European Scrutiny Committee and this Committee about the consultations and reactions of the industry. My hon. Friend's point is especially relevant in terms of the feed ban. We will have to work closely with the industry on the proposals to make that ban permanent from July.
Dr. Brand: I would like to return to the problem of fallen stock and the derogation of being able to bury such stock in isolated and remote communities. As a Member who represents an island, which could be regarded as remote and isolated, I would not like the derogation to be used as an excuse for not having a proper disposal mechanism. If we are to use such a derogation, it should be scientifically justifiable in terms of public and animal health. Will the Minister give an assurance that, when she reviews the fallen stock arrangements, the operation of the knackering industry and the use of incinerators, she will also look into the maintenance of small abattoirs and making small abattoir facilities available to remote communities? That would allow sound stock to enter the food chain, replacing the ridiculous situation of creating risk material.
Ms Quin: I have visited the Isle of Wight and I have never thought of it as remote, but as accessible to visitors such as me.
The hon. Gentleman made a fair point about remote places. However, the Commission is looking into the matter in a restrictive rather than a liberal mannerif I may say that to him. I can see the Commission's point of view. Islands that do not have a collection centre, processing plant or incinerator are in a different situation to islands such as the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
A number of hon. Members have asked about implementation. The Commission visits member states regularly to check that legislation has been effectively implemented. It also works with national enforcement authorities to find out how implementation has been carried out.
Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green): I appreciate the answers that my right hon. Friend gave about remote, isolated places and the level playing field. I am from the Netherlands, which is such an overpopulated and poxy little country that no places are remote. Therefore, it will always be difficult to achieve a level playing field.
Ms Quin: I thought that my hon. Friend was going to talk about the remoteness of his constituency. I would have found it challenging to respond to that. When we examine the level playing field, we must look at all aspects of the regulation. Obviously, the remoteness criterion is one aspect, and a fairly small part of the overall regulation.
Mr. Gill: Will the Minister give an undertaking to investigate the methods of disposal in all other EU countries? If it transpires that other countries have a national incineration service, will she undertake to consider that as part of the UK's response to deal with this problem in the future?
Ms Quin: I know from experience that the hon. Gentleman likes to ask me to give assurances, and sometimes even categorical assurances. It would not be up to the UK to undertake such work. As I mentioned, the European Commission is investigating funding arrangements for disposal in all member states and we await the results of that study. However, my impressions so far are that some countries have a national service while others do not. Some countries have a mixture of routes while others have a levy system that helps to fund the service. Some countries have other financial arrangements. Therefore, I know enough to state that the pattern varies throughout the EU.
I note the amendment that, I think, was tabled by the official Opposition to the Hunting Bill, about a national service. The difficulty with that amendment was that it seemed to imply a nationalised service. However, we are trying to ensure that a genuinely accessible and safe service is available to producers throughout the country. We still want to discuss the organisation and funding of such a service with the industry.
Mr. Quinn: Has the Minister discussed with her ministerial colleagues in the Department of Health who are responsible for food standards in the UK whether we should draw on our recent experiences to offer advice to the people who are responsible for setting up the European food standards agency, so that the regulation, and others like it, can be introduced in the manner that all members of the Committee would like?
Ms Quin: Yes, there have been discussions and contacts on those matter both at official and ministerial level. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food believes that it is important to work closely with the Department of Health because the Food Standards Agency reports to that Department, and also because there is often overlap, especially on animal health and human health issues, between the work that is done in the EU Health Council and in the Agriculture Council.
The Government are communicating their experiences of the FSA to the European Commission so as to inform the debate on the setting up of the European food authority. We believe that it is crucial for that authority to be able to link in satisfactorily with national food authorities. If the system is not co-ordinated effectively, conflicts can arise due to lack of communication and misunderstanding. That would be particularly negative given the current public concern about food safety.
Mr. Paice: I turn the Minister's attention to the issue of catering waste, which is addressed in the proposed regulation. Will she explain the definition of catering waste? The proposal refers to
With regard to the processing of swill, the explanatory memorandum mentions that the proposed standards for pressure cooking are higher than those that are currently required in the UK. Therefore, the Minister will not be surprised that I raise the topical issue of foot and mouth. Although I do not wish to prejudge the conclusions about its origin, it seems likely that it has been caused by swill, and more particularly by the addition of a material to swill that should not have been added. Are the Government satisfied that the UK standards and the proposed standards in the regulation for the treatment of swill are adequate to ensure the destruction of all pathogens that may be present in catering waste, including those that might be present in a product that is fit for human consumption but not for animal consumption, as is the case in foot and mouth?
Ms Quin: The hon. Gentleman has raised a number of important points. As he is a former pig farmer, I wish that I had the opportunity to ask him what he feels about pig swill and its use [Interruption.] He says that he never used it, so he is typical of pig farmers because I understand that only about 1.5 per cent. or 1.6 per cent. of them use swill. It must be kept in mind that safety changes to swill regulations would not affect a huge proportion of the UK pig industry.
Catering waste is defined in article 2, paragraph 45 of the amended text as
The hon. Gentleman tempted me to go down the topical path of considering the possible source of the foot and mouth disease outbreak. Investigations into that outbreak are continuing. The animal by-products regulations propose a higher temperature control than we currently have, but the current controls, if properly implemented, do not pose a risk of foot and mouth disease. We will continue to discuss the matter with the European Commission. Although we are happy that our existing standards kill off foot and mouth organisms effectively, we are not averse to tightening standards on pig swill, given the small number of pig farmers that use it, and despite the fact that the proposals may necessitate those farmers procuring new cookers. Such a move would respond to public concern and the feelings of many pig farmers and producers.
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