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Pigswill

4.13 pm

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): On 24 May 2001, three months after the outbreak of foot and mouth, there entered into force the Animal By-Products (Amendment) (England) Order 2001. At the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, there perished in this country a practice that has taken place for thousands of years, ever since mankind domesticated animals—the feeding of food waste to pigs in the form of swill feed.

I know that Members on both sides of the House want to contribute in this short debate, so I do not propose to waste time by disputing the logic of that decision, although I believe that it was illogical to penalise innocent swill feeders for the irresponsible behaviour of one, who may or may not have been implicated in the outbreak of foot and mouth. I hold out no hope that the Minister will do the right thing and revoke the ban, but it is right to draw his attention to its adverse effects, which, like so many pieces of regulation, is adding to the costs of business and industry.

To take one example, Phyllis Court hotel in Henley must now pay an extra £1,000 a year to a licensed collector, whose responsibility is to remove wet waste that previously went to a pigswill feeder. Given that there is room for only three years' waste in our landfill sites, that is not the cleanest and greenest solution. It is estimated that the ban on swill feeding is generating an extra 1.7 million tonnes of waste per year, and that which does not fill up our landfill sites must be going down our drains, clogging up the sewers and attracting vermin.

Yet of all the people who are suffering the ill effects of the ban, the worst hit are the 62 previously licensed swill feeders. It is the injustice to them on which I shall concentrate. I will show that the Government have been triply culpable in their behaviour towards the swill feeders and therefore owe them compensation. There is the simple moral case: many swill feeders were urged by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to buy very expensive equipment and a few months later that machinery, like their profession, was redundant.

The Minister for the Environment said last week in the House that he would not compensate the 62 swill feeders for this Government-imposed frustration of their Government-inspired expectations on the principle that the Government do not compensate for the introduction of health and safety measures. He cited in support of his actions the Tory Government's refusal to compensate those who de-boned the heads of animals when that practice was banned during the BSE crisis.

Hansard records how in 1996 the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), now the Minister for the Environment, clamoured for compensation for the head de-boners saying that the Government had a moral duty to compensate them. Someone has changed his tune. I expect the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will invoke the prerogative of government to hypocrisy, to say one thing in opposition and to do another in government. He will brush aside the moral obligation that I believe is on him and his Government. I must warn him that they face a far more difficult legal challenge. Government negligence created

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the conditions in which the foot and mouth outbreak became more likely and the innocent 62 swill feeders were made more likely to suffer for the Government's negligence.

At the time of the outbreak it is now obvious that the UK Government were in material breach of article 15, paragraph 3, of EU council directive 80/217/EEC, in that the UK's Animal By-Products Order 1999 allowed


Now the EU directive did not ban swill feeding—far from it. In fact the Minister may have inadvertently misled the House when he said that it had been banned across Europe, because it will continue in Germany, Italy and Austria until at least 2006. It might have continued here if Ministers had had more gumption and had stood up for the industry in this country.

The EU directive demanded a more stringent regime than that imposed in Britain, and it could be argued—I should warn the Minister that it will be argued when the matter comes to adjudication by the courts—that the UK Government's lax implementation of the directive created the conditions in which irresponsible and unhygienic swill feeding, of the kind we saw at Bobby Waugh's farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall, was more likely. That made the outbreak of foot and mouth more likely and the innocent swill feeders more likely to be punished for the crimes of the guilty few.

I need hardly remind the Minister, who I am sure is an expert in European law, that under the Francovich ruling the European Court of Justice laid down the principle of state liability for damage caused to individuals by breaches of community law, giving rise to an obligation on that state to make good such damage. Even if, as I hope will not be the case, the Minister does not accept that he and his Government have a moral duty or any legal obligation under Francovich principles, there is the simple moral point that the UK Government failed adequately to enforce their own regulations, never mind EU regulations.

A report by the EU Commission conducted from 1 to 5 October 2001 not only highlighted the legal discrepancies, it found that two former swill feeders were failing to comply with the Animal By-Products Order 1999. The report pointed out that


In other words, it found that the UK Government were not sufficiently enforcing their own Animal By-Products Order, never mind implementing the EU directive correctly.

The clinching point in my case is that made by Mr. Jim Dring, the state veterinary officer responsible for reviewing Bobby Waugh's licence a mere 14 days before the index case of foot and mouth disease appeared on his farm. In a statement dated 5 Oct 2001, Mr. Dring accepted that had his inspection


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There could be no clearer admission by the emanations of the state of failure adequately to police their own regulations, nor could it be clearer that, had the state done its duty properly, there would have been no need to ban an innocent and ancient practice.

That is the moral and the legal case for treating those 62 swill feeders well, rather than just brushing them contemptuously aside—as the Minister has been tempted to do in the past—as people engaged in a sordid and mildly amusing activity, which is unlikely to command public support. They may be involved in a mucky business, but that is no reason to treat them like muck.

We must err on the side of caution in the agriculture sector, but my case is that the disaster took place precisely because the Government did not err on the side of caution in implementing the directive and enforcing the law; they must bear the responsibility for that.

I urge the Minister to consider how his Department's money will be best spent—in lodging lawyers in Luxembourg to fight a case in which the Government do not occupy the moral high ground, and which is, at best, legally uncertain, or in doing the right thing by the representatives of an ancient British industry who have been done out of a job through no fault of their own.

4.22 pm

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) on securing a debate on an important subject. He may have over-egged his pudding in terms of the politics, but the basic point that he makes is correct.

Two potential issues are at stake that should be explored thoroughly and properly in the debate and by the Government, but that has not yet happened. The first issue is whether there has been a failure in policy or procedure by the Government. One incident triggered off a ban that affected every swill feeder in the UK. The incident was serious, and it may be the case, although there is some dispute about it, that that incident triggered off the whole problem with foot and mouth disease. However, all swill feeders suffered the consequence of that one lapse. The decision was rushed through in a matter of days—there was no proper consultation, compensation or consideration of the effect that it would have on those swill feeders' livelihoods.

Mark Prescot and his brother were pig farmers in Melling in my constituency. They are not pig farmers any more. They had spent quite a lot of money on the correct equipment, but they were then prevented from engaging in that activity and were given no compensation for the money that they had invested in the equipment. I contend either that the Government were unfair or that they overreacted. If they overreacted, there is a case for maladministration. I have referred Mark Prescot's case to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration—several other hon. Members have referred similar cases to him—and he will determine whether there has been maladministration. I believe that there has, but will await his verdict.

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However, even allowing for the fact that that investigation is under way, the policy was unfair. Comparisons can be made with deep-sea fishermen and mink farmers, all of whom were compensated for having to disengage from the industries in which they were involved. However, no serious consideration was given to the pig farmers. The most that Mark Prescot got was a helpful consultant who looked at his land and the activities in which he was engaged and concluded that he could not think of anything else that he could do except put in a fishing pond. That was helpful, although Mark Prescot realistically decided that charging people to use a fishing pond might not be the most economic use of his land. That is the only assistance that he received.

Among all the problems in my constituency—yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is situated next door to mine and suffers from similar difficulties—it may seem strange for me, as an urban MP, to be taking up this one. However, the fact is that my constituent has lost his livelihood and has not been compensated in any way. That is almost unprecedented. I cannot remember any other industry that has, in effect, been destroyed without any consideration of compensating those involved for the loss of their livelihood. It is quite possibly a case of maladministration—that remains to be seen—but it is most certainly a strong case of unfairness.

4.26 pm

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Ind Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) on introducing this important debate. I was involved with the issue in 2001, when I received representations from Mrs. Lynda Davies of the Association of Swill Users. As a result, I met Mrs. Davies and the Rev. Keith Ineson of the Salvation Army's agricultural chaplaincy in Cheshire to discuss the severe difficulties experienced by swill users. I pay tribute to Keith Ineson for his valuable work during the foot and mouth epidemic, and I am sorry to hear that he has been made redundant: he is the last agricultural chaplain in the United Kingdom.

In November 2001, Keith Ineson reported to me that 41 farmers in Cheshire, most of whom were tenants and had no alternative business or accommodation, were in dire straits, placing many families under great stress. Mr. Ineson reported to me that one elderly farming couple were then living on an income of just £100 a month. I remain concerned that the manner in which the ban on pigswill was implemented by DEFRA paid insufficient attention to the practicalities faced by the majority of farmers using pigswill, in addition to the detrimental way in which the ban impacted on pig farmers' livelihoods.

The decision to introduce a ban was based on the evidence derived from a single case of pigswill use, which was then considered to have been the source of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, rather than on the usual methods of collection, storage, processing and distribution used generally by pig farmers in the United Kingdom. The feeding of catering waste to pigs was subject to a host of stringent rules and regulations, to which farmers working under licence firmly adhered, and Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food inspectors visited farms every three months. The failure was due to the lack of inspection, and not to the pigswill users.

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There were particularly difficult circumstances pertaining to animal husbandry in the United Kingdom at that time, and DEFRA instituted an extremely brief period of consultation in which interested parties could participate. Even with meaningful consultation, the Department's stringent proposals were not amended as a result of the limited number of representations received during that short period. As a direct result of the ban, a considerable number of small businesses, each feeding an average of 1,500 pigs, were lost. These farmers were given a maximum of 10 days' notification in which to finish feeding pigs completely or to adapt their plants to take alternative feeding methods. Both options were totally unreasonable and unworkable, given the time factor involved.

I do not want to take any more time, except to make the point that in Europe, pigswill continues in Austria, Germany and Italy, those countries having obtained a derogation until 2006. They are more fortunate than the 62 swill users who, at the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen, were put out of business in this country. If justice is to be done, they should be compensated.

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) on securing this debate.

It may be helpful if I put the debate on pigswill into its historical context. Legislation controlling the feeding of waste food to animals is not new. In the 1940s, there were a number of swill-related orders, including the Diseases of Animals (Boiling of Animal Foodstuffs) Order 1947 and the Foot and Mouth Disease (Disinfection of Road Vehicles) Order 1941, which was introduced during the war. Since then, the controls have been progressively strengthened in recognition of the risks of feeding food waste and with the aim of trying to avoid outbreaks of serious diseases such as foot and mouth and classical swine fever. Significant among those were the orders of 1954, 1973, 1987 and 1999.

Until recently, swill feeding was considered a useful way to dispose of waste food, provided that the legislative requirements were strictly adhered to. What made us review that practice? In 2001 we had the worst outbreak of foot and mouth disease in living memory. Following the outbreak, the risks from swill feeding became much greater. Before the outbreak, the main risk was from the feeding of imported infected meat products. Afterwards, there was a much greater risk of infectivity from domestically produced meat because of the amount of virus in circulation. That is why we introduced the ban when we did, in order to reduce the risk of foot and mouth spreading. After the introduction of the UK ban, the European Commission proposed an EU-wide ban on swill feeding of waste food to livestock. We supported the continuation of that ban, which now applies across the Community, with Germany and Austria, and not Italy, granted a four-year transitional phase-out period.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Henley opposed the ban in the first place, but he suggested that after foot and mouth we should have reintroduced swill feeding, yet

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with stricter controls. We were not prepared to do so, and the Anderson inquiry into foot and mouth recommended that we should not do so.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Since the Minister has mentioned the Anderson inquiry, perhaps he can deal with the one point that I wished to make. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) has brought the issue forward and we have all had sight of Mr. Dring's full report. However, that report was not available to the Anderson inquiry. The Secretary of State has admitted that, although the report was available to Ministers, they chose not to make it available to Anderson. It is clear to anyone who has read the report that it is pertinent to foot and mouth. In the light of the new evidence now in the public domain, will the Minister reconvene the Anderson committee to see what lessons should be learned from that important document?

Mr. Bradshaw : No, I shall not do that, but I shall address the genuine concern that the hon. Lady raises.

The origin for the 2001 outbreak is considered to have been at Burnside farm, Heddon-on-the-Wall, Northumberland, which was licensed to feed processed waste food under the Animal By-Products Order 1999. Burnside farm was permitted to obtain processed waste food from approved premises. Following the outbreak, evidence was found of unprocessed waste food having been fed to pigs at Burnside farm. That is the most likely source of infection of the pigs.

As hon. Members have said, in recent days there has been highly misleading and mischievous press coverage based on selective quoting of a personal statement made by the local MAFF vet, Jim Dring, in autumn 2001 about his contacts with the Waughs' farm in the run-up to the outbreak. I have decided today to publish Mr. Dring's personal testimony in full, so that people can read it and make up their own minds. A copy has been placed in the Library and on the DEFRA website. Far from showing any incompetence on the part of Mr. Dring or the then MAFF part, I believe that the document shows a dedicated and conscientious vet dealing with some difficult customers who went out of their way to conceal dangerous and illegal activity on their farm. To suggest, as some have done, that Mr. Dring was responsible for the foot and mouth outbreak is like saying that a police officer who misses a piece of evidence at the scene of a crime is responsible for that crime rather than the criminal himself.

Ann Winterton : Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bradshaw : No, I shall not do so any more.

There has also been some confusion about the EU directive that governed the feeding of pigswill at the time, which the hon. Member for Henley mentioned. The directive permitted the treatment of swill in specialised establishments under official control and provided for such swill to be consigned from those establishments to approved premises. It states:


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In my Department's view, our legislation fully implemented the provisions of the directive. Consigning properly processed swill from approved premises to approved swill feeders was, at that time, a legitimate activity, and it was permitted under the directive.

Mr. George Howarth : Does my hon. Friend accept that my constituent Mark Prescot, for example, complied fully with those regulations and yet was stopped from using swill feed and therefore lost his livelihood? Does that not deserve compensation?

Mr. Bradshaw : That was very unfortunate for my hon. Friend's constituent, but I will come to the issue of compensation in a short while.

As I said, the introduction of the Animal By-Products Order 1999 provided more stringent controls than ever before. However, experience demonstrated that no matter how stringent the legislation, there will be those who will do not follow the rules. In the case of foot and mouth disease, which cost the country approximately £8 billion, that had catastrophic consequences. There is only one conclusion to be drawn: the Government made the right decision in banning the feeding of swill to pigs.

I turn now to the issue of compensation, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth). I fully appreciate that the introduction of the ban affected a group of producers that combined two roles—waste collector and pig farmer. In the past, Governments have not compensated farmers for changes in feed material available for their livestock. The ban did not prevent those affected from keeping pigs, although I accept that some farmers may have faced additional costs to adapt their feeding systems.

Pig producers, including former swill feeders, may continue to feed their livestock vegetable or bread waste or liquid feed that neither contains the banned products nor has originated from a kitchen or other premises where meat has been handled. Equally, the business of waste food collection could continue providing that no livestock are kept on the premises to which the waste was taken. In those circumstances, the waste would have to be disposed of by the collector at an approved disposal site.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East made comparisons with other sectors—the fishing and mink farming industries. The ban on mink farming prevented producers from farming mink, whereas the ban on swill feeding did not prevent the keeping of pigs. As I stated, it is not Government policy to compensate farmers for changes in the feed material available for their livestock and it would not be appropriate to start that now. The announcement made by my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment in April 2001 about a £22.5 million package of aid to the fishing industry was not about compensation; it was an encouragement to adopt more sustainable fishing practices and to rationalise the industry through decommissioning.

The Government did, however, assist swill feeders in other ways. Free business advice from professional consultants was made available to all registered swill

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users and processors. Our records show that there were 93 of these, and I am aware that the reaction of those that took part was mixed, but it was a major effort to provide practical assistance.

Other opportunities were available, such as the rural enterprise scheme to help diversification, details of which have been made available to those campaigning on behalf of the swill feeders. I consider that the Government have not only gone to considerable lengths to listen to the concerns of former swill feeders, but done what they can to make available practical assistance to help overcome the difficulties that the ban may have caused individual businesses.

Mr. Johnson : Will the Minister specify exactly what practical help the Government have given to those swill feeders and why it cannot be extended to compensation for the machinery on which they have invested considerable sums?

Mr. Bradshaw : As I said, such compensation would set a precedent. The practical help is what I have just outlined: free business advice and help to encourage the swill feeders to diversify and to stay in business.

The hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) made a point about the consultation. The reason why the consultation period was brief was that we were in the middle of a foot and mouth outbreak. There were a good number of responses to the consultation. The overwhelming majority of organisations, including the National Farmers Union, the National Pig Association, the National Consumer Council and the Meat and Livestock Commission, supported the Government's decision to ban feeding pigswill to pigs.

Ann Winterton : They replied as they did because they were unaware that the Department for Environment,

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Food and Rural Affairs, or MAFF as it was, had failed to inspect the premises in question. MAFF, not the pigswill user, was the true culprit.

Mr. Bradshaw : I do not accept that at all. When the hon. Lady reads Jim Dring's report in full, she will reach the same conclusion that I reached, which is that the culprit was a farmer—

Ann Winterton rose—

Mr. Bradshaw : I shall not give way. The culprit was a farmer who was indulging in a dangerous and illegal activity, and Mr. Dring made every effort to do his job properly when he made his January visit. No one has suggested that he was negligent or that he missed important evidence. It is very easy for hon. Members to say in hindsight that the activity was obvious. It was not. I suggest that the hon. Lady reads the verbatim report made when Mr. Dring visited the farm in January.

The hon. Member for Henley also expressed concern that the ban has increased the amount of waste going to landfill. That needs to be put into context. When the ban was introduced, the number of pigs fed on swill amounted to approximately 1.5 per cent. of the national herd, which is very few pigs. The amount of waste food being used to feed to pigs was not great compared with the amounts of waste food going to landfill from other sources. However, the Government take their recycling targets seriously and are aware that the amount of biodegradable waste sent to landfill must be reduced, not increased. DEFRA strongly supports the option of composting and the biogas treatment of catering wastes. Those plants must be approved under the animal by-products regulation. Given that that legislation was introduced only recently, we have been doing well in dealing with applications for approval. To date, 10 plants are being validated and are now treating catering waste.

Question put and agreed to.