Animal Health Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 7th October 2002.

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Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Liberal Democrat 7:15 pm, 7th October 2002

Subsection (2) inserts:

"any animals the Minister thinks should be slaughtered with a view to preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease".

That raises some key issues. Amendment No. 111 is particularly important, because it exposes the vexatious issue of the contiguous cull, which caused enormous problems in 2001. I spent a fortnight trying to protect a herd of British Friesians, which are becoming increasingly rare. They were inside a property, not out on the farm, and there was a contiguous cull on the neighbouring farm. We can all quote examples of that. After a fortnight the herd was slaughtered. That was a loss of a considerable gene pool, because, as most of us know, the Canadian Holstein has become the main black and white cow in this country now. The issue caused no end of angst in my former constituency, where people could not understand clearly why they were being told that their flocks or herds had to be slaughtered. I have to concede that in the Brecon Beacons, where animals were on the open hill and 18,500 were slaughtered, there was perhaps a case for doing such a thing, although it caused a great deal of distress at the time.

It is extremely important to have accurate assessment. I know the problems. There is very little time in which to make the assessments and come to material conclusions. The amendments begin to clarify the circumstances in which we could perhaps avoid the unnecessary slaughter of animals without contributing to the spread of the disease. I do not underestimate the difficulty of achieving that. We have the possibility of ring vaccination coming up. That will help to overcome some of the acute difficulties and may help to solve the problem in the future. I shall not talk about general vaccination, because that raises a lot of difficulties relating to consumption and exports, but in the longer term—and perhaps even in the shorter term—ring vaccination will help to overcome the problem.

The issue that we are confronting is very important. Psychologically, the farming community in the areas affected is still suffering from it. People have still not come to terms with having to have their animals slaughtered. We are talking about the reasons and what we can do to improve matters. I therefore support the amendments.