Draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle

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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I will not detain the Committee for long. I should point out my interests relating to livestock farming in the Register of Members' Interests.

I was in Ludlow market earlier today. The quality of the stock there makes it obvious that a great number of farmers are doing a very good job. The one or two who let down the industry are the real problem, but the code of practice will—I hope—be instrumental in improving their practices, or ensuring that they are not allowed to keep or handle livestock in future.

I would like to make one or two points. The first is about inspection, which is discussed on page 7 of the code. Obviously, it is essential that livestock is inspected regularly—daily, or perhaps even more often. However, because of the low profitability of

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farming businesses and the recommendations of Lord Haskins that such businesses should become bigger, there are fewer people on farms trained to carry out inspections. There is a real danger that vital inspections will not take place if businesses continue to get bigger while employing fewer staff.

My second point relates to the comments of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings about fallen stock. We cannot get away from the topic. Several paragraphs in the code deal with the way in which ill or injured stock should be slaughtered on farms. Paragraph 48, which describes how fallen stock should be disposed of, recommends

    ''in certain circumstances, burial in such a way that carnivorous animals cannot gain access to the carcass, or burning.''

I am not sure whether that complies with new regulations that have been introduced. There might be a discrepancy between the code and current requirements for livestock farms.

4.46 pm

Mr. Morley: I am grateful to hon. Members for giving a general welcome to the code and for recognising that we have dealt with the main details. I shall try to deal with the points that have been raised.

I accept that the implementation of common standards throughout the whole EU is a serious consideration. Farmers say that it is all very well implementing regulations and codes, with which they will comply, but they want to know what is happening in other countries. I wish to make a few points about that.

First, the document before us is a code, not a statutory instrument or regulations. As the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) rightly stated, it is based on good farming practice. The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) pointed out that the cattle sold at cattle markets are in peak, tip-top condition. They have been looked after and cared for well because good standards of animal husbandry are in a farmer's interest—they enable him to maximise returns. There is logic to the code.

Welfare codes are not statutory, but I have said before that if a prosecution is brought under the animal cruelty legislation, which is statutory, the prosecution may use the fact that the codes have not been complied with, if such is the case. The codes are not statutory, but they are important, and they are based on good husbandry.

The European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office is responsible for monitoring how member states apply the code. When I travel, whether in my ministerial capacity or privately, I am always interested in looking at what other member states are doing. Generally speaking, I find that standards are pretty good in most European countries, but they, like us, have rogues and people who do not comply. If examples of non-compliance are brought to the Department's attention, we always follow them up and take them up with the Commission. I wish to make it absolutely clear that we will pursue cases put

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to us by farmers in which they are complying with regulations and codes but other EU farmers are not.

Implementation will be reasonable and proportionate. The main vehicle for implementation is our state veterinary service, which will carry out ad hoc inspections on farms and follow up complaints. Local authorities also have a role, as do animal welfare charities, in following up complaints. The bureaucracy within the code is not especially onerous. It is based on common sense and good farming practice, and there will be ad hoc inspections of the work.

I was asked about fallen stock, which is topical. We have been seeking and are continuing to seek agreement with the farming organisations on establishing a national scheme. Let me make it clear that the sticking point for the National Farmers Union—whose opinion is not shared by some farming organisations in the devolved Administrations—is its desire for a 100 per cent. contribution from the Government, which we cannot give under the state aid rules.

It is not unreasonable that the industry should contribute to dealing with one of its by-products. We are prepared to make a contribution: we currently contribute about £30 million to over-30 month scheme collections and to fallen stock collections to monitor bovine spongiform encephalopathy in animals over 24 months. Incidentally, Mr. Cran, although we are obliged to monitor fallen cattle over 24 months, we are not obliged to pay for collection and removal. We do so as part of our contribution to the industry, but it must be part of a two-way process.

We are offering farming organisations the opportunity to have some control over a national scheme, which they can operate in a co-operative way. In this country, we do not have a great record on co-operative working and co-operative structures. If we put in place a national scheme to which farmers pay a subscription to join, we calculate that it could reduce the cost of collection by about 40 per cent. for ovines and by up to 60 per cent. for bovines.

The industry currently deals with fallen stock, which is nothing new, in a variety of ways. It is true that there will be restrictions on on-farm burial, which is one way in which the industry currently deals with the problem. However, we have a knacker industry and rendering industry that have told us that they can cope with the likely demand.

Mr. Hayes: I am grateful for the Minister's assurances, but I want to focus on two of his remarks. First, he says that the knacker industry and the rendering industry can cope with extra demand. Can he comment on the geographical issues? I have been told that those industries may be able to cope in some parts of the country, but not across the whole country. One imagines that a national scheme would have some sort of universality and that there would be consistent assurances across the whole country.

Secondly, there is a concern about cost effectiveness. People will want to make sure that the scheme gives good value for money before they contribute to it. The Minister has given us

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assurances, but can we be absolutely sure that the savings that he describes are firm and lasting and that costs will not escalate once the scheme gets going?

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman intervened before I had finished my comments. I was going to say that of course there are regional differences, but the rendering industry has led me to believe that United Kingdom national capacity will be sufficient. There will be geographical differences, but we are already getting approaches from individuals and businesses that, seeing that there will be demand, want to set up in certain areas. The market will provide the service because it will step in where there are opportunities, but I want to go further. As for the costings being provisional, I wanted to give the industry a role in running the scheme, which would have directly involved it in structuring the costings.

Routine burial will be ended from 30 April, but some remote areas will be exempted. Whatever agreement is reached between the Government and farming organisations, we shall contact every livestock farmer so that they all are aware of exactly what is in place and what the options are. Livestock farmers can rest assured that before 1 May, they will be given advice on the procedures they may take.

Mr. Williams: I can understand why the Government are loth to spend more money to pay for the scheme, but they claim that the problem is state aid rules, so how have other countries got round them? I understand that some countries are financing the scheme in full.

Mr. Morley: I understand that one or two countries have paid 100 per cent., but that goes back to before the new regulations and the agreement that there would be a limit on what can be paid. Some countries,

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such as Spain, impose a levy on livestock farmers to pay for a number of things. It would be wrong to think that all European countries are paying 100 per cent., or that they are paying anything. I understand that some countries that have been making contributions intend to withdraw those contributions. The position varies throughout the European Union. We are not being unreasonable—£30 million is a considerable sum.

We accept that, although the code refers to the Animal By-Products Order 1999, the new legislation will soon be in force, so the points that are being made are legitimate in relation to the code. I hope that we can reach agreement with farming organisations before 1 May. They have an opportunity to have some control over and involvement in the industry. They have always said that they want that, and we have always wanted to encourage that. The talks are continuing and the options are not yet closed. However, I appreciate that livestock farmers will need to know exactly where they stand. We shall ensure that they receive the information before 1 May.

Fallen stock is a topical issue and I am grateful for the generous support for the code, which is a step forward in ensuring that this country has high standards of animal welfare based on good, sound animal husbandry practice in the industry. The code has been welcomed by the industry and I appreciate the Committee's support for it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Code of Recommendations for the Welfare of Livestock: Cattle.

Committee rose at three minutes to Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cran, Mr. James (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Breed, Mr.
Drown, Julia
Hayes, Mr.
Jackson, Helen
Kidney, Mr.
Morley, Mr.
Perham, Linda
Plaskitt, Mr.
Robertson, Hugh
Truswell, Mr.
Waterson, Mr.
Williams, Mr. Roger

 
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