Swine Vesicular Disease

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 11:15 am on 22 May 1981.

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Photo of Mr Peter Mills Mr Peter Mills , Devon West 11:15, 22 May 1981

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir. T. Kitson) for allowing me to say a few words in this Adjournment debate.

My hon. Friend raised this problem in one of our agricultural committees, of which I have the privilege to be chairman, and I believe that he was right to do so, just as he is right to bring to the attention of the House and the Minister the problems which he has just described. However, I wish to highlight the growing problem in agriculture of these large units, and not just to discuss the problems arising from outbreaks of swine vesicular disease.

We know that, in the world in which we live we have to have these large units in order to achieve the output and the efficiency that we require. A unit of this kind is a far cry from the old days when a farmer with two or three sows and perhaps a dozen weaners or fatteners had a useful unit, when a farmer kept 10 cows and found them a large number to milk in a day, or perhaps had a small flock of sheep. Today, those numbers have to be compared with thousands of pigs or, for that matter, large dairy units of 200 cows and large flocks of sheep.

These large units present real problems, and we in the South-West of England, let alone farmers in Yorkshire and Scotland, are concerned about the effects of disease on large units. The bigger the herd, flock or pig unit, the greater the danger and, therefore, the greater the care that is needed.

The threat of disease grows. The problem of SVD is not so serious, because the slaughter policy is working and is right. However, we have had problems in the South-West with sheep scab. In fact, we are rather ashamed about what has happened in the South-West. Now, the Minister has rightly taken action to deal with sheep scab, but there is no doubt that large flocks have contributed to its spread. We have also experienced the dangers of contagious abortion and outbreaks of TB and foot-and-mouth, to say nothing of problems in poultry units, all of which, because large units are involved, present real problems. The danger is present all the time. Given these large units, the Ministry has to watch them carefully and the problems to which they give rise. Disease can spread like wildfire and it is important to have up-to-date procedures and regulations to deal with it.

As I have said, I agree wholeheartedly with the slaughter policy in respect of SVD. It is right. It is the cheapest solution in the long run. We have seen such a policy work successfully with the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth, and I congratulate the Minister and his staff on the speedy way in which they dealt with that appalling danger.

However, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks when he suggests that we need firmer guidelines to deal with cleaning up operations after an outbreak of disease, especially of SVD.

In the case to which my hon. Friend referred, it took far too long to get the premises cleaned up and sterilised. I wonder why the work was put out to contract and why the farmer was not allowed to do it himself. In my view, any attempt to do such work privately should be encouraged. The farmer should do it himself, of course, under firm Ministry guidance, because its vets cart guide a farmer firmly, and I believe that that is the right way to proceed.

From the farmer's point of view, the sooner the cleaning operations are completed, the sooner he is back in business the sooner his neighbours can sleep at nights without the fear of the disease spreading to their farms. to say nothing of the dangers to other farmers further afield.

In supporting my hon. Friend in this matter, I hope that we shall have firmer guidelines on these matters and greater encouragement for the farmer to get on with the job quickly with his own staff. It is to his advantage and everyone's advantage.

I ask the Minister two questions. First, what happened to the pigs that went off in the lorries? Were they burnt, dumped, buried, or—an even more frightening possibility did they find their way on to the market?

I hope that I am not putting the Minister in an embarrassing position, but I must warn him, as I have recently warned the House and the public, that there is a growing number of cowboy operators who will use knackered, condemned meat for sale in shops. It is important that we know exactly what happened to these pigs. Did they find their way into pig hamburgers? I do not know whether there are such things. That is the way in which some of the knackered beef has gone. Did they find their way into dog food? That is another dangerous outlet.

This matter is not to be taken lightly. A growing number of fiddles are taking place. We want to be certain that all animals that are slaughtered because of disease or a slaughter policy are burnt and done away with and do not find their way on to the market in any form.

Secondly, over this whole area, and particularly SVD, what arrangements do we have with the rest of Europe? Is there any harmonisation on these matters? We do not see much harmonisation in Europe and the Community as regards foot and mouth disease and a slaughter policy, and so on. As for SVD, I am wondering whether our Ministry vets are discussing with vets in Europe and the Community a harmonisation procedure on these matters.

Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks, on bringing this matter to the attention of the House. I hope that the Minister, without too much trouble, will be able to answer my questions.