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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.