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Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what plans she has for additional testing of sheep in relation to possible BSE infection; and what representations she has received from the Food Standards Agency regarding the adequacy of present research. 
Margaret Beckett [holding answer 18 October 2001]: Because of the difficulties of collecting sheep brain material that is in a suitable condition for strain typing by conventional bioassay in mice, and because of the length of time it takes to get the results from such studies, work is in hand to develop and evaluate molecular methods of distinguishing BSE from scrapie. SEAC has recently endorsed a programme of work at the Veterinary Laboratory Agency which includes a statistical analysis of the robustness of molecular approaches, retrospective testing of 1,400 sheep brains which were positive for a TSE in the VLA archive and prospective sampling of the brains from all clinically reported suspects which prove to be positive for a TSE.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when copies of (a) the report of the Rural Task Force and (b) Lord Haskins' report were made available to the media. 
Margaret Beckett: I regret that this reply has been overlooked. Copies of both the report of the Rural Task Force and Lord Haskins' report were made available to the media at a press conference held in my Department on 18 October 2001the day of publication.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what instructions regarding preparations for foot and mouth were issued to the Meat Hygiene Service between 1 December and 1 February 2001; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Morley [holding answer 2 May 2002]: Field operations associated with the trial were suspended during the foot and mouth disease outbreak because of the disease risk posed by operatives on agricultural land. The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) has considered the
7 May 2002 : Column 48W
Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Department is taking to develop goals and targets to confront negative environmental economic and social impact of development within and outside the European region. 
Mr. Meacher: The Department is engaged in a wide range of regional and international processes to combat the principal threats to sustainable development. Many of these are referred to in recent answers to my hon. Friend. As far as the European Union is concerned, the Government has strongly supported the recent agreement by the European Council on a sustainable development strategy for the EU which sets high-level objectives and targets and aims to provide a more coherent framework for the EU's policies. This strategy is expected to be extended at the Seville European Council to cover the EU's external responsibilities, notably on trade, aid and governance.
Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she will reply to the letter dated 3 December 2001 from the hon. Member for Leominster on behalf of constituents Mr. and Mrs. Pledge about liquid petroleum gas. 
Mr. Morley [holding answer 15 April 2002]: I am sorry for the long delay in replying. You will be aware of the difficulties DEFRA faced last year in processing correspondence, following the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, and the creation of the new Department. Steady progress is being made towards eliminating the backlog of cases, and performance on incoming letters was considerably improved. I can assure you that all efforts will continue to be devoted to this area until the problems have been fully resolved.
Your constituents letter raises issues on the use of liquid petroleum gas, which is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry. The correspondence was sent to the DTI on 25 April, for them to reply direct.
Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when the Parliamentary Secretary intends to reply to the letter dated 25 January from the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan regarding the monitoring of quota uptake. 
Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many letters received by her Department since June 2001 received a substantive response in (a) less than four weeks, (b) between four and six weeks, (c) between six weeks and two months and (d) over two months; and if she will make a statement. 
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Mr. Morley: The Department suffered severe disruption last year due to allocating top priority to defeating the Foot and Mouth epidemic. Furthermore the sheer volume of correspondence following the creation of DEFRA had a major impact on the Department's performance, resulting in a large backlog of letters. Mechanisms are now in place to prevent any further recurrence of the problems experienced, and a range of work is in hand to tighten both quality and the speed of our response to Member's letters. The events of last year were exceptional, and their impact is still being felt across a range of Departmental activity.
|Number of letters which received a response|
|In less than four weeks||2,689|
|Between four and six weeks||1,078|
|Between six weeks and two months||1,086|
|Over two months||2,471|
Mr. Carmichael: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she will reply to the question tabled by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on 12 February, Ref. 36001. 
Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the impact on (a) employers in rural areas and (b) agricultural and related industries of the increase in national insurance contributions announced in the Budget. 
Margaret Beckett [holding answer 23 April 2002]: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Andrew Smith) on 29 April 2002, Official Report, columns 54445W.
Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what her estimate is of the cost in the next 12 months of the budget changes to employers' national insurance contributions to (1) (a) her Department, (b) agencies of her Department and (c) local government carrying out functions within the responsibility of her Department; 
Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, pursuant to the letter of the Minister for the Environment, Ref. 162822, of 26 March 2002, what the outcome is of the discussions with interested parties on EU food labelling rules requiring a GM presence to be indicated. 
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Mr. Meacher [holding answer 25 April 2002]: In my letter to the hon. Member I noted that current EU food labelling rules are based on a 1 per cent. threshold for incidental GM presence. My reference to discussions with interested parties related to the issue of how GM and non-GM crops might co-exist at farm level. My officials have had preliminary talks on this with various stakeholders. These revealed a wide range of views and we are now considering how to take the matter forward. The Food Standards Agency lead on the specific issue of food labelling.
Mr. Bill O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for what reasons the Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste sets different targets for different materials in the packaging chain; and if she will make a statement. 
Mr. Meacher: The EC Directive on Packaging and Packaging Waste 94/62/EC sets targets for overall recovery, recycling and material-specific recycling of packaging waste. The first targets to be met under this Directive were due in 2001 and were:
Between 25 per cent. and 45 per cent. to be recycled; and
15 per cent. of each packaging material to be recycled.
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