Swine Vesicular Disease

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 10:57 am on 22 May 1981.

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Photo of Sir Timothy Kitson Sir Timothy Kitson , Richmond (Yorks) 10:57, 22 May 1981

I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise the problem of swine vesicular disease, with special reference to a serious outbreak that occurred in my constituency last yeear.

In 1979 there were 43 outbreaks of swine vesicular disease in the United Kingdom. In 1980 there were 60 outbreaks, but there were only seven up to May this year. That demonstrates that there has been a considerable reduction in the number of confirmed cases in recent months.

As the House probably knows, when there is an outbreak of swine vesicular disease a compulsory slaughter policy is carried out by the Ministry. An intensive disinfection programme is carried out on the farm or property concerned, involving the cleaning up of all the buildings, yards, road vehicles, tractors and trailers—in fact, pretty well everything on the property.

In December 1980 Ministry vets from the Northallerton office confirmed an outbreak of swine vesicular disease. Prior to the confirmation an order was placed on the premises, Beck Hill Farm Ltd., preventing the movement of pigs for seven days. During that time blood tests were taken. They proved positive, and the Ministry appointed a valuer. Between 11 and 16 December, 4,776 pigs were slaughtered. The carcases were removed by road vehicles, and compensation of £271,884 was agreed and paid. I regret to say that today, in one of the northern newspapers, it is suggested that there was delay in the payment. I know that that is not correct.

Beck Hill Farm is a substantial, efficiently run pig unit, turning over about 15,000 pigs for slaughter annually. All the pigs are brought in and fattened, and there can be little doubt that the disease was brought on to the farm, possibly on a contaminated lorry or through contaminated food. Just prior to the outbreak there was a confirmed case in South Yorkshire, at Doncaster.

In close proximity to the farm there are other substantial pig enterprises, and those concerned were obviously concerned and worried about the possibility of cross-infection and the chance of substantial losses to those neighbours. Most of the neighbours, unlike Beck Hill Farm, have rearing units. It is well known that if breeding units are lost, the position is very much more serious than where they are lost on a farm on which the animals are merely being fattened. Fortunately, I can report that up till now there has been no further outbreak in the immediate area.

For some years the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has used Wimpeys as the contractual firm to move in and assist in the cleaning-up process following an outbreak of swine vesicular disease, and that was the pattern of events at Beck Hill Farm. Compensation for the slaughter of the pigs was agreed and paid speedily, as I have already mentioned, but the assessment and payment of compensation for ancillary materials on the farm, such as waste food, potatoes, hay and straw, was considerably delayed.

There had also been a continuing problem over what to do with the slurry on the farm. The Ministry informed me that one of the two lagoons contained 1,400,000 gallons of slurry. Understandably, the neighbours were not enthusiastic about having that slurry put on to the fields adjoining them.

I was asked by the National Farmers Union to raise certain points arising from the case that give justifiable concern to pig producers in the neighbourhood. It appears that there might be a lack of common procedure for the removal of slurry and waste products from a farm once the disease has been confirmed. In view of the disease risk associated with these substances it is essential that priority should be given to their disposal, in order to safeguard not only the farmer in question, but those surrounding him who may have livestock. The Ministry could well look again at the procedures and activities to be undertaken in the event of these problems arising.

There is a feeling that in clearing out and cleansing infected buildings there should be close liaison with and supervision of contracted labour by Ministry veterinary staff, to ensure that matters are dealt with properly and that the risks of subsequent disease spread are kept to a minimum. There is no doubt in my mind that the Ministry's policy of attempting to eradicate the disease by means of slaughter and compensation is having considerable success, and no one would wish to alter that policy.

I wrote to the Minister of Agriculture on 19 March, expressing some of these worries. He replied to me promptly in the first week of April. He pointed out that there was difficulty with the owner in the production of invoices concerning contaminated feeding stuff, and that there were also difficulties in trying to reach a satisfactory conclusion on these values. Therefore, an outsider valuer had to be brought in to assist.

While the negotiations were going on there was a large amount of waste food on premises, which attracted a great many birds. This aroused fears that the birds would transfer the disease to neighbouring farms. When the Ministry veterinary staff were investigating suspected swine vesicular disease on the farm they did not stop milk vans, post vans and other delivery vehicles calling at Beck Hill and then going on to all the neighbouring farms, or warn of the risk involved in allowing that procedure to continue.

At the time of the slaughtering of the 4,700 pigs, 17 carcase loads were taken off the farm and driven to the Midlands. As the drivers of those vehicles were changed regularly, there was not satisfactory supervision on a number of occasions. Lorries left the farm, turned in the wrong direction and then had to turn round in the neighbouring farms, which had large pig units, before going down the road in the right direction. That created a great deal of concern.

At Beck Hill farm there are two large slurry lagoons. Although an attempt was made to remove a considerable amount of the slurry, and also to spray the lagoons to ensure that there was no further risk of cross-infection, the usual practice—which is to remove the slurry by tanker and dispose of it in an approved waste tip—was not undertaken in this instance. I suppose that it can be argued by the Ministry, with some justification, that with such enormous quantities of slurry it would have been almost impossible to cope with in that way. It would be helpful if the Minister would take a general look at the procedure for handling slurry, to ensure that the success nationally of SVD eradication is continued and that what is acceptable in one area is maintained and operated in others. The Ministry has taken from 16 December 1980 to 15 April 1981 to carry out its full cleaning-up operations at Beck Hill Farm.

I wrote to the British Veterinary Association—my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) was involved in the matter at one of our agricultural committee meetings last week—about the problems that we had encountered in this case. The BVA replied that there were certain procedures that usually took place after an outbreak, and suggested that the period of cleaning up and restocking was about 12 to 16 weeks. That appeared to be the Ministry's general procedure, but, as can be seen from the facts that I have outlined, in this case we were in no way on line for that sort of programme.

In the same week that Beck Hill farm had a confirmed outbreak, there was an outbreak at Stranraer, where about 8,000 pigs had to be slaughtered on Mr. Robinson's property. It is interesting to note that on that occasion cleaning up and disinfecting procedures were carried out by Mr. Robinson's own staff, under the supervision of Ministry of Agriculture veterinary officers. It is also interesting to note that, although the outbreak on Mr. Robinson's farm was only a week before the one in North Yorkshire, he was in a position to start restocking on 15 April this year, and already has over 2,000 pigs back on his property.

I cannot stress too strongly to my hon. Friend how important it is to have the operation carried through speedily, so that restocking can begin. I do not feel that the delays in this case can be justified, although I know that there have been certain other difficulties concerning valuation and matters of that kind. However, I have to point out that, sadly as a result of this delay, at Beck Hill farm a number of staff have had to be made redundant because there is no work for them to carry out. Where a farmer is allowed to do his own clearing up under Ministry supervision, that problem does not appear to arise.

As I said before, at Beck Hill farm the premises were disinfected, as well as all buildings, yards and vehicles. It was then decided by the Ministry to pressure-wash the insulated ceilings of each piggery. A great amount of water pressure was applied in this operation, and, as a consequence the tinfoil insulation on the ceilings was stripped off them. This damaged the ceilings so greatly that now they all need removing, and new material will have to be affixed. The damaged insulation ceilings are now quite worthless in monetary value and also in their vapour barrier, heat and fire-resisting properties.

In addition, in many places the floor tiles have been stripped off by the water pressure. I saw this for myself last Saturday morning. Literally thousands of tiles have been removed. When Wimpeys were cleaning up, the water pressures used by the firm's representatives probably were far greater than necessary. It is extremely difficult to lift tiles off floors and remove ceilings altogether unless far too many pounds of water pressure are used in the cleaning-up process.

The electrical system should have been tested and disconnected, with all the apparatus being protected with polythene and tape, before any washing down took place. Because those procedures were not followed a small electrical fire occurred, and the district veterinary officer stopped the North-Eastern electricity board and a private contractor carrying out tests on the apparatus when it was discovered that it would take seven days, at a cost of £1,400, to renew the installation. The electricity board was then instructed to disconnect the buildings at the mains. This was done in February 1981. It is fortunate that no employee, or anyone else for that matter, was killed by the electrical "shorts". The operation of water on live apparatus must contravene regulations under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act.

I believe that there should be a set pattern of rules when dealing with a situation of this kind. It is most important that in an outbreak of disease, with all the resulting problems, someone grasps the nettle. It is now four weeks since the disinfection operations were completed, and I was given to understand last Saturday that the answer to the question of who pays for the damage to the electrical wiring, ceilings, floors, the replacement of troughs and many smaller items is not clear in the mind of the owner of the property or in the mind of the National Farmers Union.

One might well ask how a pig producer in Scotland, with about 8,000 pigs on his premises and whose outbreak of SVD is confirmed in the same week, can carry out his own cleaning and disinfection work and be back in business by April 1981. Mr. Atkinson is convinced that he and his staff could have cleaned up his farm in half the time and at about half the cost to the Exchequer incurred by using contracted labour.

We now have the problem of replacing damaged ceilings and floors. A great deal of electrical installation will have to be done. The figure for this work will be about £30,000 or £40,000, which is not an inconsiderable sum. In no way can the liability be placed upon the shoulders of the farmer.

These situations are always difficult. However, with clearer guidelines, faster decision-taking and the minimum amount of delay, both the person involved and neighbouring farmers will benefit. I hope that the Ministry will consider what can be done to improve the overall procedures.