HC Deb 17 February 1983 vol 37 cc455-6
6. Mr. Cockeram

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what tests are made in British quarantine stations to detect maedi visna disease in imported sheep.

Mrs. Fenner

Most livestock imports are required to undergo quarantine as a defence against foot and mouth disease. No tests for any disease are carried out in quarantine unless animals show symptoms of disease.

Mr. Cockeram

Does not the fact that this disease is entering the country show that the complacency of Ministry officials has been misplaced? Does my hon. Friend accept that farmers are extremely worried about the need for proper control at the frontier and for proper compensation for these valuable sheep, some of which are worth over £1,000 each?

Mrs. Fenner

The international trade in animals and animal products is conducted on the basis of health certification by exporting countries designed to meet the requirements of the importing countries. There has been only one recent consignment, to which I believe my hon. Friend is referring, where the proper precautions were not carried out, and the country involved is taking disciplinary action in that respect.

Mr. Mark Hughes

I am afraid that I find the Minister's answer wholly insufficient. The fear is that maedi visna can be brought into this country by infected animals and remain dormant and not be clinically diagnosable for a long time. The present quarantine arrangements are wholly unsatisfactory. Will the hon. Lady look closely at this matter again?

Mrs Fenner

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we always look at this problem carefully. We must always maintain surveillance, but we must strike a balance between disease risks and the need to obtain new genetic material. Health certification is designed to minimise the risk, but we must accept that if animals are imported there is always some measure of risk.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Is my hon. Friend aware that one of my constituents, Mr. Redman, has some of these sheep which are worth £4,000 to £5,000 each? Would it not be reasonable to allow him time to have them medically checked to see whether they have the disease rather than to slaughter them or send them back by tomorrow?

Mrs Fenner

No, because the importation was illegal. The only safe course is to return the animals to the country of origin or to destroy them. I understand that the French authorities will probably be willing to take the sheep back.

Forward to