§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lord Carter asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they are satisfied that the current animal health controls on imported farm livestock are working properly.660
The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe)
My Lords, we are satisfied that our controls are working properly but we have identified some problems in exporting countries. As a consequence, the Government are taking a number of measures designed to help prevent the introduction and spread of disease by imported cattle. In particular, we have instigated 24-hour periods of blanket surveillance at all south and east coast ports which cover exports as well as imports; we are targeting consignments where there is a particular animal health disease risk with up to 100 per cent. checks; and we have stepped up checks at points of destination to between 50 per cent. and 60 per cent. on average. We believe that those measures, and others taken in the light of any disease risk in exporting countries, will continue to help safeguard our high animal health status.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does the introduction of the new system which he described, which we all welcome, mean that the Ministry has now accepted the warnings that many of us gave some time ago regarding the low standard of veterinary certification in some other EC countries?
My Lords, we are concerned that in certain other member states the standard of certification has fallen short of what is expected. However, I emphasise that, in the event of suspicion of a specific disease risk, we can carry out checks on imported consignments at any point in the transport chain, including at ports of entry. Furthermore, it is open to us to take action to provide safeguards to prevent imports in the event of an outbreak of disease in the exporting country which poses a serious public or animal health risk.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, does the noble Earl recall his first day at the Dispatch Box in his present position on 20th May 1992 when I asked a Question very similar to this one? In view of the fact that warble fly has been reintroduced into this country, how should farmers who are already sensitised to organophosphates treat milking cattle? There is no problem with young cattle which can be given an ivermectin injection, but with milking cattle organophosphates are the only treatment. As farmers work milking cows twice a day and are exposed to those products, they are very concerned that either they will have to lose 28 days of milk supply if they inject their cattle or will themselves be affected by organophosphates.
My Lords, where farmers face real difficulties in carrying out warble fly treatment the Ministry is willing for them to arrange for blood samples to be tested for warble fly at the Central Veterinary Laboratory. The cost of taking the blood sample will have to be borne by the farmer but the Ministry will pay for the test itself where the samples are received before mid-February 1994. All animals giving a negative result to the blood test will be released from any further restrictions, but those giving a positive result will have to be treated, if necessary by another person, before movement restrictions can be lifted.
§ Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior
My Lords, I am glad that the Minister recognises that an essential element in this issue is the confidence we have in the accuracy of the certification given in overseas countries for the importation of animals into the United Kingdom, especially from the European Community. How will Her Majesty's Government respond to the proposed reduction in the meetings of the veterinary advisory committee on veterinary training, under which meetings would be held for one day once a year? Many other advisory committees are similarly affected. Those advisory committees ensure a degree of comparable status and competence across the Community. Will the Minister comment on that important question, which has direct relevance to certification?
My Lords, we are looking at those proposals carefully. There is no evidence to suggest that official veterinary services in other member states are any less competent than those in the UK. Occasional errors in veterinary certification have occurred but they have been taken up immediately with the member state concerned. The UK is pressing for harmonised EC standards of veterinary certification based on a set of principles drawn up by the federation of veterinarians in Europe.
My Lords, the UK is largely free of all the major animal diseases. We are therefore concerned to exclude such serious diseases as Aujeszky's disease in pigs, swine vesicular disease, Newcastle disease in poultry, foot and mouth disease, warble fly and brucellosis.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, what liaison exists with the British Veterinary Association to help farmers on the issues we have discussed this afternoon?
My Lords, I am sure that the British Veterimuy Association is only too willing to advise farmers where they are uncertain. Equally, the regional offices of the Ministry of Agriculture are also ready to provide advice.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the anxiety that exists in relation not only to imports which originate in other EC countries but also to imports which originate outside the the Community and enter the EC before being imported into this country? Is he also aware of the letter this week in the Veterinary Record from a vet who said that he had seen some of the certification procedures in other EC member states and that if a vet in this country were to practice at that level he would be struck off?
My Lords, I am not aware of that letter but I shall make sure that I see it. I note what the noble Lord says with some concern. Imports of live animals into the Community from third countries must comply with detailed animal health conditions. In addition, live animals may be imported into the Community only through an approved border inspection post and must undergo full documentary, identity and physical checks 662 before being permitted to enter into free circulation within the Community. On the whole we are satisfied that the system is working well.
My Lords, the warble fly is a very nasty insect and lava which infests itself into the body of a cow or other animal. It causes severe discomfort to that animal and severe loss of condition.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for the very full reply that he gave me. However, perhaps I may press him. In a case where blood tests prove positive and the farmer has to dress his cattle or inject them, can compensation for his loss of milk for a 28-day period be considered on the same basis as compensation for slaughter of animals affected by brucellosis and foot and mouth?
My Lords, there are no provisions for that kind of compensation. If the noble Countess cares to write to me with details of the case which she obviously has in mind I should be delighted to seek a full reply.
§ Lord Geraint
My Lords, in order to put at ease the minds of those who are interested in the import of livestock, can the Minister confirm or deny whether any of those diseases have been confirmed in livestock at a port of entry?
My Lords, it is my understanding that none of the outbreaks of disease which we have seen this year has been detected at the port of entry. However, it is fair to say that nor would they have been under the old system. They have been detected at subsequent points, most notably the points of destination.
§ Lord Brougham and Vaux
My Lords, did I hear my noble friend say earlier that the vets on the Continent are as good as the vets in the United Kingdom? The skills of the vets whom I have seen in Spain are almost non-existent.
My Lords, my noble friend did hear me aright. We have every confidence that the standards of training for vets throughout the Community are of a uniform nature.