Swine Vesicular Disease

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

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Photo of Mr Jerry Wiggin Mr Jerry Wiggin , Weston-Super-Mare 11:22, 22 May 1981

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Sir T. Kitson) on selecting this subject for an Adjournment debate. I should also like to express my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) for his more general comments on animal health and large flocks. I shall deal with his very fair point about the size of flocks and herds of pigs and other animals. Disease is a great enemy. Obviously, when one has very much larger units, all the problems of hygiene, disinfection and so on are magnified. It may seem obvious, but it is true, and my hon. Friend was perfectly right to raise the point.

As I understand it, in Europe the responsibility for animal health matters remains within each country. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend's experience will confirm that the veterinary officers of various Governments all over the world enjoy a remarkable degree of mutual co-operation. They talk about these matters continually, not just about swine vesicular disease, but about all aspects of animal disease. Where I have come across any international problem—such as contagious botritis in horses, or a foot and mouth outbreak, with the effect that that has on dairy products—I have found that those concerned operate extremely quickly and extremely well. That does not mean that there is not further progress to be made, but the present position is fairly satisfactory.

Perhaps it would be sensible if I were to explain, briefly, the procedures used in the eradication and elimination of SVD, and the background to the disease. SVD is caused by a virus which produces in pigs clinical symptoms which are indistinguishable from foot and mouth disease. Laboratory tests are necessary to determine which virus is present in suspect pigs. The SVD virus is more persistent and more difficult to kill than the foot and mouth virus. If left to run its course, SVD is likely to produce a loss of condition in pigs, but its main importance lies in its clinical confusion with foot and mouth disease. If it were not tackled by a slaughter policy it would become widespread and would seriously disrupt the movement of pigs to markets and abattoirs, as on each occasion when disease was suspected in pigs a full foot and mouth disease standstill would have to operate while a differential laboratory diagnosis was being made.

Since 1972, when the first outbreak of SVD occurred in Great Britain, about 500 outbreaks have been confirmed. Compensation has cost about £11 million, to which must be added about £4 million on expenditure arising for cleansing, disinfection and other costs. In 1980, 60 outbreaks of the disease were confirmed, with the resulting slaughter of nearly 50,000 pigs at a cost in compensation of about £2·7 million. With a few exceptions, the disease has been confined since January 1976 to the Yorkshire, Lancashire and Humberside areas.

Swill feeding of pigs gives rise to greater risks of swine vesicular disease than other methods, notwithstanding that swill—fed pigs may be moved only direct to slaughterhouses. Control measures operating under the Diseases of Animals (Waste Food) Order 1973 have already been tightened up and arrangements are in hand to improve the controls still further.

Other measures which are being taken with the aim of eradicating SVD include blood sampling at slaughterhouses of swill-fed pigs originating in those areas where we consider that there is the greatest possibility of finding infection. This includes some areas of Yorkshire, although my hon. Friend's constituency is not in one of these areas.

These measures have been shown to be worthwhile by the fact that six of the seven outbreaks this year were found as a result of such sampling. The blood sampling has recently been extended to pigs from the premises of sow feeders and dealers in the whole of Yorkshire and adjacent countries whose premises appear to have been a source of continuing infection. The State veterinary service is also undertaking intensive tracing in those markets which have been associated with the disease.

I hope that this brief summary will have served to indicate to the House the seriousness with which the Government regard SVD. As the past history shows, it is very difficult to eradicate. But the Government are determined to continue to work towards this objective. The results of the monitoring which has been undertaken in the Yorkshire-Lancashire area, where the disease is centred, and the recent diminution in the number of outbreaks, suggest that progress is being made in its containment and that, to use veterinary terminology, we are getting ahead of the disease.

As I have indicated, swill feeding of pigs gives rise to greater risks of SVD than other methods, notwithstanding that such animals may only be sent for slaughter. We have taken steps to tighten up the controls set out in existing legislation and have it in mind to improve the arrangements even further after consultation with the interests concerned.

I know that action taken to control and eradicate notifiable diseases causes great disruption to producers and others. SVD probably is among the worst in this respect because of the persistence of the virus and the need to take the most stringent disinfection measures. It will provide the House with a measure of the precautions which have to be taken when I say that it is usually three months before any restocking can safely take place after an outbreak of the disease.

In trying to eradicate SVD, it is almost inevitable that local problems of the sort described by my hon. Friend will arise. Under our procedures the first objective after destroying infected pigs on a holding is to pay compensation for them on the fifteenth day after confirmation of the outbreak. Fourteen days must elapse to give a farmer time to appeal against the valuation of his pigs. My hon. Friend rightly said that there was no complaint about the payment of compensation, which was dealt with promptly in the case to which he referred.

Subsequently, an assessment is made of the risks arising from feeding stuffs and other materials on the holding. Where those must be destroyed that can usually be undertaken expeditiously, but on occasions differences of view or difficulties about valuation occur. In those circumstances, a certain time can elapse before the problem is solved. While we have tremendous sympathy for any fanner whose animals must be destroyed, in practical terms we have to temper that by safeguarding claims on public expenditure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West asked what happened to pigs removed from farms after slaughter. They are processed by a safe rendering method. It is approved and supervised by my Department. I am not an authority, but I imagine that it has something to do with the temperature at which the viruses can be destroyed.