asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what arrangements are made by the British Government inspectors in the countries of origin to ensure that meat exported to the United Kingdom is inspected to detect whether it is infected with the virus of foot-and-mouth disease; if he is satisfied that the spread of infection is prevented in the United Kingdom by these arrangements; and if he will make a statement.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the very substantial concern felt among farmers in this country who believe that foot-and-mouth disease is spread by the import of infected meat? Is it possible for him to arrange for a full scientific inquiry into the matter; or, if he should feel that his Department already has all the scientific information it needs, would he arrange for it to be published in order to allay public anxiety?
If my hon. Friend will read the reply when it appears, he will find the matter is set out in some considerable detail. I assure him that we keep the very closest watch on the problem of imported meat, and we receive very considerable co-operation, in particular from the South American countries from which some of the meat comes.
There is a long-standing control on the import of all potentially dangerous material. Exceptionally, two veterinary officers are stationed in South America. They act in an advisory capacity to the authorities in the four South American countries which are parties to the disease control arrangements for the supply of carcase meat to Great Britain.
These arrangements include:
My right hon. Friend is satisfied that these arrangements minimise the risk of infection being carried in carcase meat exports. The Committee which sat in 1952–54 under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers found that implementation in the Argentine was satisfactory with the exception that owing to the comparatively small number of veterinary officers employed, and the long distances to be travelled, the veterinary inspection at the farm of origin is not always made, but a declaration by the farmer is accepted instead. In any case, there must always be a risk that a carcase exported to this country is of an animal which had picked up infection while travelling to an approved slaughterhouse or had left the farm with the disease in an incubative stage but before it had been detected there.
To prevent the spread of infection in this country by imported meat, it is important that waste food should be boiled before being fed to animals. My right hon. Friend is satisfied that the Animals (Waste Foods) Order, 1957, provides the most effective possible safeguard against the risk of infection from swill. Every effort will continue to be made to reduce to a minimum the risk of carcase meat infected with the virus of foot-and-mouth disease reaching this country from South America or any other country. The problem is under constant study.