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Sheep Shipments

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) if he will make

8 May 2001 : Column: 120W

available the communications, including notes of telephone conversations (a) between his Department centrally and regionally and the French authorities and (b) between Mr. Hugues Inizan of Plymouth and his Department centrally and regionally since 1 November 2000 concerning animal shipments by Mr. Inizan from the UK to France; [156427]

Ms Quin [holding answers 30 March 2001]: We have no record of communications with the French authorities specifically about Mr. Inizan's export of sheep prior to the confirmed outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK on 21 February. We are aware that Mr. Inizan exported a consignment of 402 sheep to France on 1 February 2001. The sheep were exported under an export health certificate which was certified on 31 January and which conformed to harmonised EU rules for such trade. The export health certificate was issued by the local animal health office in Llanishen, Cardiff.

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The French authorities have now informed us that the seven samples that initially showed positive results have been re-tested with negative results. They have concluded that the initial serological positive reactions must be considered as false positives.

The Government cannot become involved in any contractual disputes between individual exporters and importers. However, the British Embassy in Paris has been actively pursuing the question of compensation, on behalf of British sheep exporters, for sheep slaughtered in France.

Extract from Private Eye's Not the Foot and Mouth Report by Richard North and Christopher Booker

"....On January 31 2001, Hugues Inizan, a Breton-born dealer living near Plymouth, used the 'farmers' ferry' to transport 402 sheep from around Abergavenny, Crickhowell and Builth Wells in south and mid-Wales to Normandy. After the first reports of foot-and-mouth in Britain, Marc Nozin, a French farmer who had bought half the sheep, asked the French authorities to test them. Seven of 31 sheep sampled showed up as 'highly positive' for foot-and-mouth. On March 7 all the animals on M.Nozin's farm were slaughtered. Yet these were sheep which had been transported to France, with health certificates signed by Welsh Assembly vets, nearly three weeks before FMD was officially identified....
...circumstantial evidence increasingly suggested that the epidemic had not originated at Heddon at all; that foot-and-mouth had probably been around for months before it infected the Waughs' pigs; and that the species initially infected had been sheep, in which the signs of FMD are often hard to detect."

"The condition of Mr Waugh's pigs in mid-February does not explain how at least two shipments of sheep in January from Brecon and Ross-on- Wye to France bore foot-and-mouth antibodies before the outbreak officially began. 31 sheep were tested. 21 of those sheep proved negative, but 10 proved positive, with 7 testing highly positive. Maff suggested it was possible the French tests produced a false result." (This was strongly denied by the French at the time.)

"Although MAFF continued to refer to the Waugh's pig farm at Heddon-on-the-Wall as the original source of the outbreak, it was never able to produce conclusive evidence to support this. For political purposes it was convenient to identify Burnside farm as the source, not least because it was an intensive pig unit which had aroused intense criticism on both hygiene and welfare grounds (MAFF was eventually to bring a series of criminal charges against the Waughs, for the way they had allegedly run their 'dirty farm').

....There was equally no evidence to support the view, also fostered by MAFF, that the pigs had become infected by eating swill containing contaminated meat imported from abroad, obtained either from Chinese restaurants in Newcastle, or from a nearby British army barracks. The Albemarle barracks did use meat from Uruguay (a country with FMD), under EU procurement rules which require the British army to buy meat from the cheapest, usually non-British sources. But although it was politically convenient to identify pig swill as the cause of the epidemic (the government would later introduce severe restrictions on feeding swill to pigs), no proof that this was the original infectious agent was ever produced"