Clause 4 - Slaughter of vaccinated animals

Animal Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 4 December 2001.

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Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 10:30, 4 December 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 127, in page 2, line 34, after 'any', insert 'reasonable'.

Proposed section 16A(3) states:

''The power conferred by this section extends to taking any—

(a) which is required to enable any such animal to be slaughtered, or

(b) which is otherwise required in connection with the slaughter.''

Great concerns have been expressed by the farming community, and others, about the powers that the Minister is taking in the Bill. As for the slaughter of vaccinated animals, we would like some clarification on the powers that are conferred on the person acting on behalf of the Minister. It is only reasonable that there should be some clarification on the kind of action that can be taken. I would welcome the Minister's comments on this probing amendment.

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

As I have assured the Committee before, the Government are under an obligation to be reasonable in the exercise of any powers. That would also apply to those powers in relation to the slaughter of vaccinated animals.

I gave some examples earlier in the debate of where people might want to consider vaccinating animals and then slaughtering them later, primarily as a disposal option which would deal with welfare and the need for orderly disposal. I want to make it clear to the Committee that vaccinate and slaughter is not an option that I personally support, apart from in very specialised cases. If vaccination is to be used, I would much prefer a vaccinate-and-live policy, but there are circumstances in which we might want to consider vaccinate and slaughter. It is all part of the general philosophy of the Bill, which is to provide as wide-ranging powers as possible, to give the maximum flexibility to any disease control approach.

When we considered vaccination and slaughter in the East Yorkshire pig units, we called in the various stakeholders and had detailed consultations with them to explain the options and reasoning. I would envisage that that approach would always be applied when these options are used as a disease control measure.

I assure the hon. Lady that we do not need to have ''reasonable'' in the Bill, because we are obliged to act in a reasonable way. I would want no other option to be applied.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

With this, it will be convenient to take new clause 2—Vaccination as alternative to slaughter—

'In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 16.

''16AA Vaccination as alternative to slaughter

The owner or person for the time being in charge of any animal the slaughter of which has been authorised for the purpose of preventing the spread of foot-and-mouth disease may apply to the Minister for it to be treated with vaccine in place of being slaughtered; and any such application shall be granted.''.'

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

This is an important clause, which deals with scrapie. The new clause which we have tabled concerns vaccination, and I will start on the issue of vaccination as an alternative to slaughter.

The clause would ensure that if there were, heaven forbid, to be another foot and mouth epidemic, the option of vaccination would be considered. Frankly, it is likely that the farming community and the public as a whole would simply not put up with another contiguous cull policy, bearing in mind the shockwaves that ran through the country at the time of the epidemic, and the awful scenes that we saw on our television screens. One accepts that, without compliance from the farming community and others, there can be no meaningful disease control. I am sure that the farming community as a whole, if properly consulted about these matters, will comply and be as helpful as it possibly can.

Many people have argued that the decisions on vaccination are political rather than scientific. For example, the NFU was against compensation during the last epidemic, partly because there was no compensation for the 12-month restrictions placed on animals post-vaccination, unlike the slaughter policy. Vaccination would have affected our export markets. Indeed, those who were in the export trade told the Minister, probably in no uncertain terms, that they did not wish to go along with the vaccination policy. One can argue that, if used, vaccination must be used early, which is perhaps another reason to include the new clause.

It is true that the science of vaccination is progressing all the time. Precise dosage levels can be determined, and in tests vaccine can be distinguished from a live infection. Although there is a delay in terms of immunity, vaccination would place much less strain on resources, certainly at the time of an epidemic. As the Minister himself said, the introduction of a policy of vaccination before slaughter would allow the more orderly slaughter of animals and disposal of carcases,

thereby avoiding the chaotic conditions that prevailed at the time of an epidemic that, we hope, will shortly be at an end.

The scientific community has developed many new tests and newer, smarter vaccines, in which there should be further investment and research. Over the weekend, I spoke to a bright young constituent of mine who managed dairy herds in Saudi Arabia for several years some six or seven years ago. Although his experience is therefore slightly dated, it is still worth mentioning. Even though foot and mouth is endemic in Saudi Arabia, he used to vaccinate and also to explain the vaccination policy for dairy herds. Of course, there is no problem whatsoever with milk from vaccinated dairy herd animals. We accept vaccination for all manner of other conditions, and no one seems to mind about that.

We must return to this issue in future. Many people feel that vaccination could have played a part in the foot and mouth epidemic if the decision had been taken early enough. I certainly feel that the issue is open to further debate, and we need to be fully cognisant of scientific improvements that are being made virtually as we speak. The issue would also have benefited from the full debate of an independent public inquiry. Proponents on both sides of the argument could have been cross-examined, and the public could have been better informed.

The issue of scrapie is huge, and given that other Opposition Members want to contribute to that debate, perhaps I shall return to it a little later.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster 10:45, 4 December 2001

New clause 2 provides another opportunity to offer vaccination as an alternative to slaughter. I welcome the Minister's preferring the principle of vaccinate and live to that of vaccinate and slaughter. As I was thinking about that, my eye caught the painting above your head, Mr. Conway. Given the nature of our debate, it is a shame that the painting is not entitled, ''Elliot inciting the British to prevent the landing of imported meat''. I fear, however, that by the end of our deliberations it should probably be entitled, ''Elliot inciting the British to welcome imports from abroad—and he's drawn his sword just in case there are any animals left in the UK that he can slaughter''.

This is an ideal opportunity to introduce a new clause that would prevent the slaughter that we have witnessed by offering the alternative of vaccination. I recognise that the new clause contains a chink, in that inclusion of the phrase

''any such application shall be granted'' might appear to guarantee the alternative of vaccination to every animal owner in every case. However, the new clause is not unreasonable; it is designed to enable people who love animals to protect their stock and prevent the spread of disease. It would be a positive contribution to the Bill and I hope that it will be welcomed. If we miss this opportunity to encourage vaccination, the legislation will be

retrospective, closing the door after the horse has bolted, rather than adding useful, positive steps for the future.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Clause 4 gives power to slaughter vaccinated animals, but the Bill does not guarantee that the Minister will pay full compensation, or that the amount will be equal to full market value. Does my hon. Friend agree that nothing less will be adequate, and does he want the Minister to respond to that point?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Very definitely. My hon. Friend's point is excellent. We are having this discussion because hon. Members on both sides of the Committee feel that the Bill needs amending. I hope that we will later move on to discuss those who take the trouble to vaccinate, but then have their stock slaughtered and are not adequately compensated. We must put that situation right. The Bill was drafted in August in the heat of the moment when the slaughter was continuing and the body count mounting. In the cooler light of winter, we can perhaps add useful measures to it.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour/Co-operative, Stroud

I always find it a little disturbing when people talk about vaccination in the round as if it were a solution for everything. It might be a solution sometimes, but can the hon. Gentleman tell me which countries use foot and mouth vaccination as a prophylactic policy?

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

I believe that Argentina does, but I have not been there. I encouraged Select Committee members to visit the Welsh-speaking people of Patagonia, but they were not having any of it, so my opportunities to investigate further were sadly headed off.

As we progress, we must look towards a prophylactic vaccination policy. If it does not currently exist, the Ministry might, when it has finished examining cow and sheep brains, find the funds to promote more positive vaccination policies. I hope that the Committee will accept the new clause with its alternative to slaughter, and I look forward to voting for it.

Photo of Colin Breed Colin Breed Liberal Democrat, South East Cornwall

I have considerable sympathy with the aims of the new clause, but it is a prime example of why we should have waited until some of the expert science in the reports was available. We would then have had a real idea of how vaccination can play a part in dealing with future FMD outbreaks.

The new clause has certain deficiencies, and I have a problem with where it says that

''any such application shall be granted'', which farmers could utilise to frustrate and delay. Stopping that happening is one purpose behind the Bill. I do not like some of the Bill's terminology and aims, but I recognise that the Government want to ensure that any future cull is done speedily. I do not, therefore, support the new clause.

This subject, however, needs much fuller discussion, undertaken with the benefit of the knowledge of those who are investigating the matter. It is not only the

farming community but the general public who write to hon. Members who sometimes show confused understanding of what vaccination means and how it can be used. We need a wider debate, which must be led by proper information from scientific and economic sources, while bearing in mind the social background.

The new clause is difficult to support because it says that any farmer can simply apply and ask for such and such to happen. However, the Minister must ensure that when new information is available from inquiries, which I hope will focus on vaccination as an important part of any future disease control mechanism, we have the opportunity to encompass it under legislation. Vaccination must be properly implemented so that it sensibly plays a part in controlling any future outbreak and only the minimum number of animals would need to be slaughtered.

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

I can confirm that the concerns of the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall (Mr. Breed) about the deficiencies in the clause are right. The principle deficiency is that it gives the right to any individuals to vaccinate their animals if they choose.

During the outbreak, people said that there were many downsides to vaccination—we should not forget that. If we moved to having prophylactic vaccinations, unwelcome consequences in terms of how meat would have to be deboned, hung and heat-treated would follow and cause many difficulties. That fact is not lost on farmers and exporters in the debate on vaccination and although that, in itself, is no reason not to consider vaccination, one should not leave individuals to decide, alone, to vaccinate their herd or flock without having an overall strategy for using vaccination.

The new clause would also be against EU directive 85/511, which says that the detail of any vaccination programme must be submitted to the European Commission for scrutiny and approval, and approval cannot be presumed; the Commission cannot give carte blanche to anyone for vaccination. The reason is that, in these days of international global trade and an EU single market, what one member state does may have implications for another. A logical approach must therefore be taken to vaccination. That is why we and the Dutch are sponsoring a major EU conference next week to explore those issues.

We accept that vaccination should be a weapon in our armoury. It was an option open to us during the epidemic and we never closed the door on it. After detailed scientific evaluation, I think that the conclusion will be that vaccination would not have worked because of the scale and spread of the epidemic. Vaccination could not have been used in the classical fashion of being a disease control measure. However, as the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) rightly stated, technology moves on and tests get better. The tests that were available have not yet been internationally validated, and that is an important fact. I am not saying that they will not be validated.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Is it not true that the tests are undergoing farm trials? They have not been validated, but they are well on the way and I hope that, in the near future, we will have more information.

The Minister will be aware that the proper use of modern vaccines, if used early enough, could have brought the British epidemic to a halt. They were effectively used in Holland, where action was taken quickly, although it is true that that country took the political decision to have a 10 km cull, which was not based on scientific advice. That decision meant that Holland took out more animals per outbreak than we did.

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

No, I do not agree with that analysis at all. Independent scientific research will demonstrate that that is a fallacy. When the outbreak began, we had no idea where the disease would occur. It affected the length and breadth of the country and it would not have been possible to use ring vaccination, because that would have meant putting a ring around the whole country. Using suppressor vaccination would also have been difficult.

There is no comparison with the situation in Holland, where people were warned by us and had a small and isolated outbreak that they could move in on quickly. If we had been in that position, we could have dealt with it in exactly the same way. The Dutch Government used vaccination primarily as a means of orderly disposal of the animals. That was a controversial decision in Holland at the time, and in that sense one could argue that it was political. We were never at any time given any scientific advice that vaccination would have been effective in bringing the disease to a halt. If we had been, we would have taken it.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton 11:00, 4 December 2001

Will the Minister concede a point that was made to me by one of my dairy farmers early on in the epidemic when it looked as though the disease was spreading rapidly to Cheshire—that vaccination could have been used to protect dairy herds, bearing in mind that it would not have affected in any way the quality of milk for the market?

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

I can certainly confirm that it would not have affected the quality of milk. Vaccinating for foot and mouth disease does not involve any risk to people. We have made that clear on the DEFRA website, where we give all the pros and cons of vaccination. Vaccination is not a panacea and it probably would not eliminate all culling, but it certainly has a role to play. Improved technology—such as the new test that the hon. Lady mentioned, which identifies antibodies from vaccination and from the virus—will be helpful in any disease control measures. However, that test must complete its validation, as must any test, before we can use it on a wide scale.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

When the Minister goes to the conference he may have a chance to research the prophylactic vaccination programme in Uruguay,

which has been extremely successful, especially in cattle. I hope that he will meet Dr. Paul Sutmoller, who is an expert on the subject, and compare notes with him.

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

We will have discussions with a range of international experts. My information is that prophylactic vaccination in Uruguay failed to eradicate the disease, and it is still endemic. We may discuss the reasons for that, along with many other matters.

We want disease-free status in this country, and I strongly believe that vaccination is a perfectly reasonable tool to consider among a range of options. I do not want to give the impression that we rule out vaccination or that we think that the widespread culling that took place in the recent epidemic is desirable in future epidemics. We need to look for alternatives in a responsible and considered way, and the Bill gives us the range of options to do so.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I seem to recall that vaccination was used in two outbreaks in eastern Europe, one of which was in Macedonia, and it brought the epidemic to a grinding halt. Has the Minister any knowledge of that?

Will the Minister say something about compensation for animals slaughtered after vaccination? That is an omission about which many people want to be reassured.

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

Yes, I am aware of the Macedonian vaccination programme, but I do not know whether foot and mouth is still endemic there.

I repeat that vaccination is a very important option which we should not rule out, and we do not intend to do so. Indeed, there may be opportunities for new policies in the future. Even then, one would want to use the new clause not in a piecemeal way, but in a controlled way as part of a proper disease control strategy.

The Bill provides the power for compensation for vaccination and slaughter if required. At the moment, we do not have the power to pay compensation. It does not rule out full market compensation, but it may sometimes be necessary to consider a range of options and it is important that the options remain open to the Government. One option might be that for classical swine fever, for which 100 per cent. compensation is not paid in all cases. We need to consider the different circumstances and we do not want to paint ourselves into a corner on any one option. We want the freedom to discuss with the relevant stakeholders the most appropriate way forward.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Although the Minister is making a sound point from his point of view, his comments will provide no reassurance to the farming community because it knows that at the end of the day the Ministry has the upper hand. Does he not believe that reassurance on compensation should be provided in the Bill? That has been done elsewhere in connection with compulsory purchase and this is not a dissimilar situation.

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

It very much depends on the circumstances in which a slaughter policy is used. It depends on disease control circumstances and on negotiations that might have taken place with those affected. Nothing in the Bill rules out full market compensation, and it should be negotiated in the circumstances in which such a measure is used. The NFU and other organisations have been very successful in getting a deal for their members and looking after their interests. I am sure that that will continue.

Taking everything into consideration, although vaccination is a respectable tool in disease control and a matter to which we must give further thought as technology and science progress, the new clause is not workable and I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw it.

Photo of Bill Wiggin Bill Wiggin Conservative, Leominster

Will the Minister consider carefully the research that has been done on vaccination? I am not yet completely convinced that the Dutch policy was started with the understanding that it would continue to slaughter. The Minister alluded to EU intervention. I suspect that that is why the Dutch continued down the slaughter-after-vaccination route.

The situation in Uruguay is not clear and I should be grateful for any research to be made available, perhaps through the Library, so that we can discover how effective vaccination is in Uruguay. My impression is that it is effective and has prevented the disease from becoming endemic. We import meat from Uruguay, so it is essential to ensure that the policy is effective; if it is not, that could be a source of the infection. It is essential that the research is carried out and I hope that it will take place in the near future.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Despite the Minister's reassurance and clarification, we shall press the new clause to a vote.

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

The new clause is being discussed with clause 4 stand part, so a Division on the new clause will take place at the end of the Committee's consideration of the clauses in the Bill.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:--

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 6.

Division number 14 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 4 - Slaughter of vaccinated animals

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.