Honest Food 

the Campaign for Independent Food

 

PO Box 16141 London SE1 4ZH

Telephone: 020 8740 7194

E-mail: honest-food@countryside-alliance.org

 

 

 

Animal Health Bill

 

Committee Stage – Days 3 and 4

 

October 7 and 8, 2002

 

 

 

General points

 

The progress of the Bill was halted in March because of the many contentious matters in it and because the House considered it to be premature, given that the various enquiries set up by the Government had not had time to report. The Bill was reintroduced into Committee as soon as the Reports were published, ignoring the other side of Lord Moran’s substantive amendment, that required HMG to study and respond to them.

 

The Bill is based largely on an assumption that the policy of pre-emptive culling, that is large-scale slaughter of healthy animals was more or less the correct one. This remains questionable. Doubt is cast on that by the officially set up committees and by the non-governmental ones that reported in detail in Devon, Cumbria and Northumberland. The interim report produced by the Rapporteur of the European Parliament Committee on FMD, published on September 30 (PE319.315) makes it clear that the EU attitude to prophylactic vaccination has been unsatisfactory and points out that the UK contingency plans, supposedly in place well before the epidemic, were inadequate.

 

It is incorrect to say that this was the largest outbreak of foot and mouth in modern British history. There were more infected premises in the 1967-8 outbreak but the 2001 epidemic resulted in the largest slaughter of healthy animals. Estimates vary from the very low one of 4 million, usually given out by DEFRA to the highest of 10 million given by several witnesses to the various enquiries. The Meat and Livestock Commission has stated that the numbers were definitely over 6 = million. They consider the real number to have been higher but the information about young animals slaughtered is poor.

 

It is fair to say that the data on developments during last year’s FMD was inaccurate and the scientific methodology was faulty. We still have no clear idea of how many premises were actually infected as many of the  slaughtered out ones were subsequently declared not to have been infected, yet the official figures were not changed. 

 

The computer models that led to the massive contiguous cull were faulty from the very beginning as there is no clear knowledge as to the beginning of the epidemic. The spread was far more rapid than it ought to have been because of the lengthy distances travelled by animals and, in particular, because animal movement was stopped two days after exports were.

 

All this historic background is necessary for the understanding of the major faults in the Bill. Because of all these problems, because of the criticisms raised in the various reports, it is necessary to rethink the approach to the way animal disease epidemics should be treated in the future.

 

Recent developments

 

DEFRA has indicated that HMG will reply in detail to the Lessons Learned and the Royal Society inquiries later in the year. Lord Whitty’s letter of Septemeber 25 confirms this, suggesting that the responses are due “in late October or early November”. DEFRA’s own putative timetable puts it even later. The House will not, therefore, be able to study the detailed responses until November at the earliest. The idea of picking out some of the points raised, mixing and matching them and then pushing through a complicated and difficult piece of legislation on that basis, reinforces the feeling that DEFRA’s thinking remains over-hasty.

 

In response to the Curry report DEFRA is putting together an overall strategy on animal health and welfare, discussions for which began late in August. The strategy is expected to be fully in place by the end of March, in time for the new financial year. Again, it seems over-hasty to put this legislation in place before there is any further progress on the overall strategy. It may be added that when this point was raised at one of the preliminary meetings for the discussion of the strategic plans, there was an instant and firm response from the officials who were in charge of the meeting. The Animal Health Bill was definitely not to be discussed. The decision on that had been taken.

 

The EU has announced that it will put forward a new directive, which will lay down the rules for dealing with epidemics. While it will probably leave much to the Member States’ discretion, it is not clear how much and what the various rules will be. For instance the rule about resuming export after prophylactic vaccination that is not followed by slaughter is being changed world-wide from one year to six months. Other changes will follow in the wake of further scientific work (one hopes). EU legislation has to be enforced in this country and it seems sensible to wait until there is a clearer idea of what that legislation will have in it before enacting a wide-ranging Bill that may well have to be superseded within a couple of years.

 

The Temporary Committee on the Foot and Mouth Disease, set up by the European Parliament is due to report finally in March 2003. The preliminary conclusions by the Rapporteur have been presented and published to allow members to formulate amendments. Though the Report will be substantially the same, its final conclusions remain in doubt as they will depend on further contribution by the committee and the members.

 

 

In other words a great many issues have not been settled either in legal and scientific terms. Though, clearly, one can never have final settlements, it seems to be a mistake to take this Bill through now, before the situation in this country, the EU and world-wide is clarified. It is not true to say that if this Bill is not passed there will be no methods of dealing with another outbreak. A statement on those lines suggests that there was some kind of legal problem with the way it was dealt with in 2001. If, as HMG insists, it had full legal right to slaughter healthy animals under the policy of contiguous cull, then emergency measures can be brought in if necessary again. A long-lasting legislation, on the other hand, ought to be thought through more carefully.

 

Aspects of the Bill

 

Despite numerous amendments set down by Lord Whitty and others there is still a doubt about the use of vaccination. It appears that vaccination will be used only for the animals to be slaughtered afterwards. This is only an extension of powers to slaughter healthy animals supposedly for disease control purposes. It is necessary to look at a different methodology. As Professor Sheila Crispin of the University of Bristol says in her comments on the Bill:

 

“A new Bill must allow for vaccination to live, as well as reviewing the existing powers under which animals can be seized and slaughtered. It must also ensure that there are sufficient powers available to test susceptible, as well as suspect, animals for infectious diseases (for diagnosis of disease and for differentiation of vaccinated and non-vaccinated animals).”

 

Reliable test for this purpose are in existence and they are undergoing validation at present in the United States.

 

While the Bill will give greater powers of entry (with some amendments) to test, slaughter and vaccinate, there is no mention of rapid diagnostic procedure. Real-time PCR is being tested in the United States, where the recent worry about bio-terrorism has speeded up work on various aspects of animal diseases, their transmission, tests and vaccination. Testing and vaccination done on a herd or flock basis means that there is no necessity for 100% cover in order to be effective. Calculations on testing and vaccination cover and its efficacy has been done both in animal and human diseases (notably by Professor Roy Anderson in a book he co-authored with John  May).

 

Amendment 103A seeks a strategy from the Minister, who will no doubt answer that such a strategy is being discussed. It is necessary for that strategy to be properly presented before complicated legislation can go through

 

Summary of important points

 

v     The scientific basis of the Bill is seriously flawed. More research needs to be done. The Government must concentrate on having better contingency plans and on recruiting and training more members of the state veterinary service.

v     More attention must be paid to scientific research in other member states of the European Union and North America. A new Bill to amend the 1981 Act and to deal with TSE and scrapie must be based on careful attention on up-to-date scientific work rather than inadequate assumptions.

v     More attention should be paid to illegal importation of meat. While it is not entirely clear whether that was the original cause of the outbreak, there is no doubt that funds and training are not sufficient to stem that particular flood. The Minister has promised to deal with it but no details of funds allocated or intended staffing have been announced.

v     The various reports, those mentioned in the original amendment, others produced in this country and the one due from the Temporary  Committee of the European Parliament must be studied in detail and HMG’s reply should be discussed adequately. Details of the proposed animal health and welfare strategy should be outlined with clear indication where the Animal Health Bill and the contentious SI843, passed in the spring, will fit into it.

v     Since EU legislation will have to be enforced, it is incumbent on HMG to admit this, to wait till the legislation is presented and formulate laws and regulations in the UK on that basis.

v     HMG must look carefully at the following points:

1.     the need to move away from slaughter of healthy animals being the only way of dealing with animal diseases and vaccinate to live in foot and mouth as it is done with other diseases;

2.     the need to concentrate on tests that will differentiate vaccinated and non-vaccinated animals;

3.     the need to introduce rapid diagnostics, preferably on the farm;

4.     the need to improve biosecurity with regards to illegal importation of meat;

5.     the need to have a carefully thought out contingency plan before legislation not after;

6.     the need to recruit and train more veterinary surgeons in the state veterinary service;

7.     the need to rebuild trust between farmers and officials as well as vets, badly damaged by the handling of the 2001 epidemic.

 

Helen Szamuely

4.10.02

020 8740 7194 or 07733018999

szamuely@aol.com