Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 9th September 1999.

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Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 9th September 1999

To ask the Scottish Executive what resources, in terms of funding and expertise, are being made available to tackle the algae responsible for amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP), and to ascertain the threat to public health represented by ASP, and what time scale it has set for lifting the ban on scallop fishing currently in place on Scotland's north-west coast. (S1O-262)

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour

Mr Lyon's question covers a number of points; I will address each one briefly. The monitoring and research programme on marine biotoxins is funded by the Scottish Executive and amounts to approximately £600,000 per year. Amnesic shellfish poisoning is a naturally occurring toxin that causes illness in humans.

The current ban on scallop fishing will be lifted as soon as toxin levels are consistently below the specified legal limit.

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Will the minister ensure that fishermen's leaders and the local communities that have been badly affected by the bans are kept fully informed when decisions are taken, and that they are closely consulted as part of that decision-making process?

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour

The Scottish Executive has worked hard to keep fishermen's representatives informed and will continue to attempt to do that. The results of the testing and monitoring programme are faxed weekly to the fishermen concerned. Additionally, as soon as the orders were made, we ensured that fishermen's and trade organisations, local authorities and the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency were alerted. I am mindful, however, of the point that George Lyon has made and I will continue to be active in that area.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

Is the Executive aware of the laudable responsibility shown by Scottish scallop fishermen in complying with the ban despite the great financial loss to themselves? Can ministers give some idea of the lead time between the results of monitoring being ascertained by the scientists and those results being made public?

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour

I am glad that Mr McGrigor mentioned the scallop fishermen's approach to the ban. They have been very responsible, recognising that our imposition of the ban is in the interests of public health. I am grateful to them for having adopted such a positive approach in their discussions with us. As I indicated earlier, we keep in regular contact with the fishermen about the test results and have partly lifted the ban where it was safe to do so. We will continue to take the right precautions in the interests of public health while remaining mindful of the interests of the scallop fishermen.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

In recognising that ASP is a major public health issue, how close is the Minister for Health and Community Care to setting a time scale for lifting the other important ban—on beef on the bone?

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I am sorry, but that question is on a different subject.

Photo of Duncan Hamilton Duncan Hamilton Scottish National Party

If the Executive is so keen on consultation, why did Susan Deacon's colleague, the Minister for Rural Affairs, refuse to meet fishermen on Mull last week, on the ground that it was "not his responsibility"? If it is not his responsibility, whose is it?

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour

As Mr Hamilton knows, we discussed the entire issue at some length—for an hour and a half—at the Health and Community Care Committee meeting earlier this week. He raised the same point then. I have spoken to the Minister for Rural Affairs about the matter and, if I may speak on his behalf, the claim that Mr Hamilton makes is not accurate. If he wishes to discuss it further with the Minister for Rural Affairs, I am sure that the minister would be pleased to do so.

I restate the point that I made earlier: both I, as health minister, and the Minister for Rural Affairs are pleased to engage in dialogue with local representatives, whether it be on public health issues, for my part, or on wider industry concerns, for my colleague's part.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

Does the minister agree that the scientific advice provided by the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen is soundly based, but that scientific understanding of the related issues is at an early stage? The laboratory needs more support to progress that understanding.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour

I acknowledge and concur with Lewis Macdonald's views on the role played by the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen. It is engaged in research not only in the Scottish interest, but as part of a worldwide research programme. We give a good degree of support to the Marine Laboratory, which does an excellent job. We must continually consider how such matters can be investigated further, and take the necessary action in the future.