|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, perhaps the most effective way for my noble friend to get that information to his friends in Radnor would be for me to tell him now. So far as concerns wind-spread, it is correct that it is believed that the cause of the outbreak on the Isle of Wight was a plume of virus which came over from France. It is also believed that that plume dropped on Jersey on the way and caused the outbreak on Jersey.
I can reassure my noble friend that there is a complicated computer programme which maps out the plume that is likely to be infective and the days on which it has been infective. It is not easy to give a simple answer. It depends on climate, on moisture content, on weather conditions, on prevailing winds, and on the topography of an area, whether it is in a valley or not.
I can reassure my noble friend that there have been very few wind-borne cases in this outbreak. The reason for that is that for anything other than distances normally under 0.7 of a kilometre, wind-borne spread
On the downside, we have had a great deal of disease in sheep. It is a less virulent disease and not wind-borne in the same way, but it is subject to the enormous movements that other noble Lords have spoken of today.
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I hope that she realises that she has put that firmly on the record. I have promised my neighbours in Radnor that I would produce from this House today a firm statement on what the effect of wind was or might be. If, as my noble friend said, it is this, that and the other, I shall simply say, "Well, that is the way it goes". But, if my noble friend would be kind enough, I should like her in her reply to put something a bit firmer on the record so that I can--
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I do not want to deceive my noble friend. I cannot tell him that it will be 10 kilometres within Radnorshire tomorrow. I do not know what the weather will be like; I do not know whether pigs will be infected; I do not know the topography. I can tell my noble friend that there is a great deal of academic research into this; that the chief vet is on top of that academic research; that we have two epidemiologists from New Zealand who have worked out programmes on this and are working out the plumes in every infected area; and that the veterinary authorities, in identifying dangerous contacts surrounding any outbreak, take into account that work. But I cannot give my noble friend a figure for individual outbreaks. I believe that other noble Lords appreciate that.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I quite agree; the noble Baroness did intervene to reply. But then the noble Lord made a bit more of a speech and invited her to reply again. So, in the end, the poor noble Baroness will have to rise two or three times. I am suggesting that that is more akin to a Committee stage than to a take-note debate.
I am grateful to my noble friend. We are now firmer on the wind problem. I shall pass this on to those whom I know in Radnor. Like the right reverend Prelate, I support the Government basically in the policy they are pursuing. However, I believe that there are still problems with lambing, ewes, culling and so on. No doubt my noble friend will respond to those issues when she comes to reply to the debate.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, the House should be grateful for the opportunity to debate this issue today. The livestock industry in this country will also be grateful to hear some of its concerns and fears expressed and dealt with.
The United Kingdom periodically is visited by devastating animal plagues such as the one that is upon us at this time; that is, foot and mouth disease. In the 19th century, this country was subject to another awful disease known as cattle-plague or rinderpest, when thousands of small dairies in London and elsewhere were affected over a long period of time. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford may wish to note that it was so serious that the then Archbishop of Canterbury offered a national prayer to,
The outbreak in the mid-19th century was controlled by a slaughter policy, which took a number of months, even years, to complete. More recently, in 1967, we had foot and mouth disease in sheep carcasses from Argentina. Now, some 30 years later, we start off in Northumbria with foot and mouth disease at a swill-feeding farm. The origin of the virus in that initial farm is not known, although the type of virus is known and has been typed as type O of the pan-Asian strain. It has been associated with recent outbreaks in Japan, Korea, Russia and Mongolia.
The foot and mouth virus is one of the smallest that we know of. It is highly infectious and readily spread by contact, by contamination, by wind-borne spread, which has just been discussed, and by droplet infections. Although infected animals usually recover from foot and mouth disease, the disease is far from trivial. It has severe effects on productivity--especially on milk production, which is severely depressed throughout subsequent lactations. Meat-producing animals lose flesh rapidly and only come back to full productivity many weeks, if not months, later. Abortion of pregnant animals is quite common. Very young animals may die from the infection. With highly virulent forms of the virus, mortality may be high. In 1997, an outbreak in Taiwan, which was due to this strain of the virus, produced very high mortality in piglets. Breeding programmes are disrupted. Animals which recover are carriers of the virus and shed the virus for infection of other animals.
In addition to causing economic loss--some people have said that this is an economic disease and that we need not worry about it, but that is not so--it is also a welfare disease. Animals with blisters on their tongues, their mouths and their feet suffer seriously. That is why they are lame and why they cannot eat the normal food; and that is why they salivate extensively, which is one of the cardinal signs of foot and mouth disease.
The slaughter policy that we adopt in this country has been questioned by many, including the newspapers--especially when it is on an appalling scale and we see tens of thousands of animals slaughtered to control the disease. Many people rightly ask: is this the only policy we have? The sight of piles of dead animals awaiting incineration merely emphasises the queries that they have.
But as crude and as apparently outmoded as this method of control is, it is the most appropriate way to deal with outbreaks of foot and mouth disease. Western Europe has been free of the disease for many years. That freedom was achieved by following the British example of eradicating foot and mouth disease by means of the slaughter policy. Prior to that, western European controlled the disease by means of vaccination.
One of the problems with vaccinations is that they provide only short-term cover of six to eight months. Vaccinations protect from the clinical disease, but vaccinated animals may also be shedders of the virus for other animals. Further, there are many strains of the virus: there are seven major strains but several sub-strains. Each one must be protected against by means of a specific vaccine. So, not only should we need to vaccinate against the present type O pan-Asian strain; we should need to have in reserve a large number of other vaccines in order to cover against any other virus that entered the country.
Were we to vaccinate, we should be unable to export our livestock, meat or meat products until the last case of vaccination had "died off" before we could renew our export trade. Indeed, the cost of a vaccine, the cost of administering it and the loss of trade greatly outweigh our slaughter policy. No country that is free of foot and mouth disease would even contemplate vaccination at this time. All countries that are free of the disease have adopted the slaughter policy.
The right reverend Prelate mentioned work that is going on in the laboratory at Plum Island in the United States, which is similar to our virus research laboratory at Pirbright. Scientists there are working on a generic vaccine. The research might provide a more effective vaccine. But in the meantime, we have to rely on the slaughter policy.
The public are concerned. We have all been talking to farmers up and down the country about the piles of carcasses awaiting incineration. Questions have been raised in this debate about their safety as regards the possible transmission of infection. I give the Minister full marks for her explanation as to why the piles of carcasses do not present as great a risk as do the living animals, which are the real source of concern. The answer to such worries and conundrums is that the
A further point has been raised in regard to the slaughter policy; namely, if the virus gets into rare breeds of animals, slaughter may result in the disappearance of those breeds. I ask the Minister whether her department has thought about what might be done to safeguard rare breeds. Techniques such as the freezing of embryos and spermatozoa and embryo transfer could be useful in that regard.
Support for our programme of slaughter for the control of foot and mouth disease has come from many countries around the world. They have commented on and praised the rapidity with which we have attended to this major problem. Particular praise has come from Dr Yves Cheneau, chief of the animal health service, and Dr Yves Leforban, secretary of the European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. In a letter to the Veterinary Record last week, they praised the British stand and the action that we have taken.
Another aspect to the outbreak, which has spread so far, is the question of the feeding of swill to pig herds. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, referred to the brief outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the 1990s in the Isle of Wight. In that outbreak the virus was indeed wind-borne; but as the Minister said, special conditions are applicable to the transport of the virus in droplet form by wind. Indeed, the Isle of Wight outbreak was projected to happen. Workers at Pirbright projected some time beforehand that it would come from the vaccine plant in Brittany, as indeed it did. But the situation is not simple. Many factors are involved. Other than that outbreak, all our recent outbreaks of the disease--and probably of swine fever--have been due to the feeding of swill. There is now a question as to whether swill feeding should be allowed to carry on in this country because of the dangers that it poses.
The 1980 European Community directive contributes to the issue somewhat. The directive related to the control of swine fever but is applicable to the control of foot and mouth disease. Under the directive, all swill at international airports must be destroyed. It is not allowed to be used for animal feed. It must be collected and destroyed under official supervision. Swill for the feeding of pigs must be heat-treated and then the pigs must go directly to slaughter and must be transported in leak-proof vehicles. Only Sweden has an outright ban on swill feeding.
Swill feeding has declined considerably over the past 30 years. In 1967 several thousand pig herds were fed pig swill. But now the number is down to approximately 100. The practice is clearly on its way out. It should be remembered that it is one of the more profitable sides of pig farming because the swill is free; in fact, pig farmers are often paid to take it away.
I have been able to assess the situation in the United States, where people are very concerned about the importation of foot and mouth disease. I have just received information from the USDA. There, the feeding of swill is allowed, but it must be thoroughly boiled at a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Centigrade for at least 30 minutes under supervision. I am afraid that our regulations do not carry such specific directions. Our animal by-products order of 1999 does not specify time and temperature; it merely says that an appropriate treatment should be adopted. That is one area where I believe that the regulations must be tightened up.
I turn briefly to the role of the farming economy, which I believe is associated with our present problems. As my noble friend Lady Byford pointed out, it is universally accepted that farming is in an economic crisis. So it is. This means that farmers cut back on many of the essential parts of their farming enterprise, including that of visits by their veterinary surgeon. A survey carried out by the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons indicates that the number of visits has gone down by at least a third, if not more. Therefore, the diseases that are common in pigs--and for that matter in sheep--are not seen on a regular basis, or the ill-health is not examined on a regular basis. Farmers tend to reduce the number of visits to fit in with the quality assessment schemes that must be undertaken to satisfy the supermarkets.
Therefore, along with fewer visits and the marked contraction of the Veterinary Investigation Service, or the Veterinary Laboratory Agency, it is possible that these diseases have been missed. Indeed, that could well be an explanation for the particular case in Northumbria. This is a compromise of disease surveillance. On a previous occasion in this House, I mentioned the importance of surveillance and the need to be vigilant. We should be very proud of our veterinary services in this country. They have responded to the present crisis in a magnificent way--from the Chief Veterinary Officer, James Scudamore, down to the general practitioners who have given up their time to help with the outbreak.
The outbreak raises many questions. I am pleased that the Minister has said that a full inquiry will follow when the disease is eradicated from the United Kingdom. I shall conclude by saying that the price of freedom from disease in this country is eternal vigilance. We must ensure that we maintain that vigilance to retain our freedom from such plagues as we have at present.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page