Libya: Foot and Mouth Disease

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 15th July 2003.

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Photo of Lord Plumb Lord Plumb Conservative 3:08 pm, 15th July 2003

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Libya, whether they have completed their contingency plans for dealing with the possible threat of its spread to the United Kingdom.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, trade with Libya in foot and mouth-susceptible species and their products is not permitted. Following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Libya in May, the Government have reviewed their contingency arrangements. We are satisfied that the existing plans and precautions are sufficient for the relatively low threat from Libya. Officials maintain a high state of vigilance at our ports and airports.

Photo of Lord Plumb Lord Plumb Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. I am aware that the volume of products coming from Libya is minimal. However, there are plenty of people who come from Libya, and there are the countries surrounding Libya, which are equally concerned by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Is the Minister aware that there is a serious outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Libya? It spread throughout the country for six weeks before it was reported to OIE—the International Office of Epizootics—and is, therefore, possibly spreading into surrounding countries. In those circumstances, will Defra therefore alert the livestock producers throughout the European Union because the border countries are not far from the areas where foot and mouth disease is spreading? What steps have been taken at ports of entry to increase detection of illegal imports from Libya or neighbouring countries with a special warning to tourists? I accept that we are not importing from Libya but plenty of products come through those countries. Will extra surveillance be instituted and targeted where risks are highest? Bearing in mind—

Noble Lords:

Question!

Photo of Lord Plumb Lord Plumb Conservative

My Lords, I just want to say that the confusion which arose in our outbreak is of great concern. Therefore, let us not be complacent and prepare for any possibility, recognising the threat that exists in those countries.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, there is no doubt that the Government take seriously any threat of foot and mouth disease. There has been no instance of the disease spreading beyond Libya, but it is important that the operational requirements at ports and airports—both EU and UK—take account of the fact that there is an outbreak in Libya. Without going into detail, undoubtedly that will inform the priorities of those authorities at ports and airports. As the noble Lord recognises, the import of livestock and products from Libya has been banned for many years.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge what the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, said about illegal imports? Illegal imports of meat are coming from all over the place and are not always intercepted. What strain of foot and mouth is rampant in Libya at the present time? What stocks of vaccine are present in the United Kingdom in case—God forbid—there is an outbreak here?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, the Government certainly recognise the problem of illegal imports and the possibility that such illegal imports may be diseased. That is why we have allocated another £25 million to protection against illegal imports in this country. In terms of the strain of the disease, the virus in Libya is SAT 2 which has never been recorded in North Africa previously. We have stocks of that vaccine—it is one of the eight strains that the UK keeps. It is also available from European sources.

Photo of Baroness Sharples Baroness Sharples Conservative

My Lords, my noble friend said that BSE has spread beyond the borders of Libya. The Minister said it has not. Who is right?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, perhaps I may correct the noble Baroness. We are talking about foot and mouth and not BSE. I understood the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, to say that there was a possibility of it spreading because it spread rapidly within Libya and therefore might go across the border. I said that there has been no incidence of foot and mouth in neighbouring countries to Libya. That is not to say that we should not be extremely vigilant should that happen.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, have extra discussions taken place since this outbreak occurred? What instructions have been given to port authorities with regard to illegal imports of meat? Secondly, the noble Lord said that we have enough vaccine. My understanding is that that is not so. There is not enough vaccine across the EU. Should there be another foot and mouth outbreak we would be back to slaughtering and not using vaccination, as this House recommended.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, as regards vaccine, it would depend on what strain of foot and mouth occurred in Europe. But we have sufficient vaccine to deal with an outbreak of this strain. Clearly, more will be produced, but that is not to say that every strain of foot and mouth disease is covered by vaccine stocks in Britain or Europe.

Photo of Lord Mackie of Benshie Lord Mackie of Benshie Liberal Democrat

My Lords, what specific steps have been taken to inform the public of the dangers of illegal import of meat? What penalties are available and will be applied?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, as far as information to ordinary travelling members of the public is concerned—as distinct from trade because there is no trade with Libya and therefore it does not arise in this case—we have put out a substantial number of leaflets, posters and now in-flight videos to warn passengers from all destinations against bringing back, for personal or commercial use, meat from any destination or point of origin outside the EU. That message is being reinforced daily.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister further—he did not actually answer my question. If a foot and mouth outbreak occurred again in this country, is it the fact that vaccination would not be the first choice of priority and that slaughter still would be so?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Food, Farming and Sustainable Energy)

My Lords, as the noble Baroness, who has sat through many of these debates, will recognise, the contingency plan, which we have established here and would be broadly followed by other EU countries, would see the slaughter of diseased animals and those immediately exposed. We would then, provided the vaccine was appropriate to the strain, consider as a first priority the use of preventive vaccination. It would not necessarily be appropriate in all circumstances, but that is the order of priority in the current contingency plan.