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Lord Carter: My Lords, there was also the test on the heifers imported from New Zealand, where there is no BSE. I believe some were implanted with infected embryos, etc. We heard no more about that test. Does the noble Lord know the result?
The introduction of BSE-infected material into cattlefeed resulted from changes to the rendering process in the late 1970s--when, indeed, the party opposite was in power--and early in the 1980s, which allowed infectious material into the feed. Some have claimed that those changes to the rendering process were the result of the Government's relaxation of controls on the industry and that they were due to deregulation. That is simply not true. The changes to the rendering process were introduced solely for commercial reasons. The regulation of the industry at that time was focused on the prevention of bacteriological contamination, notably with salmonella. At the time no one could reasonably have foreseen that what seemed to be minor technical changes could have had the consequences that they did have. Changes in regulations that were being considered by the outgoing Labour Government would not have prevented the BSE epidemic. They, too, were concerned with salmonella.
Several noble Lords, notably the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley and the noble Earl, Lord Clanwilliam, advocated a "back to basics" policy of farming without all the modern technological improvements. I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who said that that would result
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I ask the noble Lord to remember the days when we had humane agriculture in this country. If he was old enough, he would know that there is a great difference and it is not the same as that which happens abroad. It worked in this country in those days.
We are conscious of the need to be humane to animals. As noble Lords will be aware, that is a provision we are trying to attach to the Treaty of Rome. We also feel the need to be humble in the face of what nature can throw at us, as was King Canute, and to understand that the changes we make in agricultural practice will have risks that we cannot determine. Some noble Lords may wish to avoid those risks by not improving agriculture and the availability of cheap, good food for our people; others accept that the risks exist and the question is how we will deal with them.
BSE is not a uniquely British phenomenon. Switzerland, France, Portugal and the Republic of Ireland all have home-bred cases. Many other European countries have little or no controls over specified bovine offals. As my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith said, there is no certainty that continental beef is not rather more dangerous to humans than ours.
Much has been said about the possibility of selective culling of certain animals at high risk from BSE. If that is to be undertaken, it will have to be carefully targeted at those animals at highest risk of infection with BSE if it is to produce a genuine reduction in the number of BSE cases over the next few years. We have no intention of indiscriminately culling entire herds. That would be extremely wasteful.
The only effect of a largescale cull would be to speed up the decline in symptomatic BSE. It would not affect public safety, given the other measures that we have in place. We are prepared to contemplate it as part of a deal with Europe. The deal would be worth doing if we could do it, but it is proving extremely difficult at the moment. The European Union ban on the export of British beef and products containing bovine material is unjustified and totally disproportionate. It flies in the face of unequivocal scientific advice from the EC Scientific Veterinary Committee. As my noble friend Lord Lyell pointed out, it is damaging the Europeans as much as ourselves.
The Government are pressing hard for the ban to be lifted. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, even the Commission President and the Agriculture Commissioner now admit that British beef is safe. It is absolutely clear, as we have always said, that the ban is motivated more by the interests of other countries' beef markets than by public health. We intend to challenge the totally unjustified ban in the European Court of Justice. We will draw on the helpful recent
The ban is based on health grounds and, given what has been said in the scientific evidence, we clearly feel that we have an excellent case. I am extremely sorry that the noble Lords, Lord Richard and Lord Hooson, felt unable to join us in condemning the ban. They did not say that it was undesirable.
This morning I had the pleasure of listening to the Breakfast News on BBC1, when I was entertained by Mrs. Dagmar Roth-Behrenbt, a lady who is the Social Democrat environment spokesman in the European Parliament. She claimed to have been briefed on BSE by the Labour Party in this country. Perhaps I can read a little of what she said. She began,
Mrs. Roth-Behrenbt said that Britain should be willing to do that because most of the funds for the farmers are coming from the European Union anyway. As my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke said, 80 per cent. of the funds are in fact coming from us. That degree of misinformation and misunderstanding in someone who claims to have been briefed by the Labour Party is shameful and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and his colleagues will do something to put it right fast.
We have put in place many measures to help industry. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked on what they were based. The parts of the Food Safety Act at which he should look are Sections 6(4), 13(1) and 48(1). I hope that he will find what he needs there.
I am conscious that I have not replied in detail to the questions raised by many noble Lords. However, I wish to trespass on your Lordships' time to respond to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and others; that is, late maturing cattle and cattle which have not been exposed to BSE and which are brought up in what might be called an environmentally friendly way. We are aware of the need to have special exemptions for those cases. We are urgently working on the technical elements of the scheme which will allow clearly defined exemptions to be made. But, as the noble Earl, Lord Kintore, said, BSE does occur in such cattle and our first priority must be that of public health.
The BSE issue raises many difficult questions. Most important is to ensure the protection of public health. That the Government have done throughout the BSE epidemic. We have to eradicate BSE. Again, measures taken since 1988 are ensuring that we can do that. We need to establish a healthy beef industry. The return of consumer confidence in beef will help achieve that, and we are working hard to see that that happens. In the meantime, help has been made available at critical points through the industry to farmers, abattoirs and to the renderers to ensure that that great industry can remain viable and effective.
I want to close by returning to the key point; that is, the safety of British beef. We have stringent control measures in place and they are enforced most rigorously. I can only commend to the House the comments of the chairman of the SEAC, Professor Pattison, who said,
Lord Richard: My Lords, I believe that I have 36 minutes to respond to all those who have taken part in the debate. I merely wish to make one or two comments. Primarily I want to say something in regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said.
The debate exhibited a number of different strands. One thing is perfectly clear. Apart from the noble Viscount, Lord Mountgarret, everyone who spoke from the other side of the Chamber blamed somebody other than the Government--Europe, the broadcasting media, the press, and particularly the Labour Party. Now we are accused of falsely briefing a lady whose name I did not catch who gave an interview to a body in terms which the noble Lord admits must have been false. It seems to me to be stretching responsibility just a little far to ascribe to the Labour Party the views that that good lady--and I am sure she is--is supposed to have given.
The noble Lord said that the Government wanted to be as humble as King Canute. My recollection of King Canute is that his humility got him very wet feet. It seems to me that the Government have not only wet feet; they are soaked, sodden, and up to their eyebrows in a mess of their own making. But the really staggering thing that emerged, clearly set out by the Minister in his
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