Animal Infections

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 17th October 2002.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 11:30 am, 17th October 2002

What recent assessments she has made of the effects of the transport of animals on the spread of infection.

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Department has carried out preliminary veterinary and economic assessments of the 20-day standstill rule on animal movements and these are published on the Department's website. A comprehensive cost benefit analysis and risk assessment is now being commissioned, as recommended by the inquiries into the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

Is not it true that the main reason why foot and mouth spread more rapidly here than in any other country was that between the time of infection and the time of its detection, infected animals went to at least six marts, possibly coming into contact with 1 million other animals? Is not it right that the Government encourage farmers to use other methods of selling animals, such as through the internet, videos and direct sales, as they did during the foot and mouth crisis, rather than by making journeys to market? Is not it outrageous of the Opposition, who demand better methods to ensure that foot and mouth does not return and spread and that other infections do not come to this country, to oppose the Government on a sensible moderate scheme for the 20-day rule and to support farmers who flagrantly break the rule?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I agree. The 20-day rule is an essential part of disease control strategy. It was recommended in the Anderson report and the Royal Society report. We have modified the details of the 20-day rule to take into account the real burdens on farmers in relation to the patterns of their animal movements. However, as I said to the industry, there is no going back to the situation pre-FMD. There will have to be movement controls.

The Veterinary Laboratories Agency is commissioning an independent risk assessment to consider whether 20 days is appropriate or whether other amendments could be made in the light of representations. However, the rule is essential. The disease was spread by widespread animal movements and, in the case of Northern Ireland, by illegal sheep movements. So we must have tight controls. The Opposition's position on the 20-day rule in last night's debate was irresponsible. They did not recognise the real need that in order to combat disease there has to be action by all concerned. That means the Government, local authorities and agencies, but the livestock industry must play its part as well.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire

What answer would the Minister give to farmers in my constituency who think it illogical to have lax controls at airports and sea ports, where few resources are committed to prevent foot and mouth entering the country, while farmers are continually hamstrung in their livestock businesses by a rigid 20-day rule, which makes their business unviable?

Photo of Elliot Morley Elliot Morley Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

To be blunt, for some it is just an excuse. Controls at entry are important. We do not discount them and take them very seriously. Indeed, we have just committed an extra #1.5 million for additional checks at points of entry. We are considering all methods to ensure that we can strengthen controls at all borders and in all areas through which meat travels to enter this country. The truth is, however, that whatever we spend and whatever we do, we cannot give a 100 per cent. guarantee that some disease will not get into the country. In that respect, although we recognise that we must play our part in border controls, and we will, the livestock industry must play its part as well. Movement stops are an essential part of that. Those people who are not prepared to accept them put the whole livestock industry at risk. Given the fact that the taxpayer has to pick up the bill, the industry must recognise the need for it to play its part in minimising the problem.