§ 9. Mr. Hurd
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the total number of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease this year; how many of these have been traced to infection of South American origin; and what further measures the Argentine authorities have been asked to take so as to make more effective the inspection and quarantine of cattle which are destined for shipment here as chilled or frozen beef.
There have been 116 confirmed outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in England and Wales this year, including 29 classified as primaries. Of the primaries, 17 are attributed to meat from South America; these gave rise to 79 secondary outbreaks.
375 My veterinary officers have discussed with the Argentine authorities the possibility of keeping animals in quarantine for a period before slaughter but this was not found to be practicable. The Argentine authorities are very cooperative and every effort is made to reduce as far as possible the risk of bringing in foot-and-mouth disease. No system of inspection, however, can be relied upon to eliminate it completely.
§ Mr. Hurd
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that this matter is really being pursued actively by the Argentine authorities? Are they not rather taking it for granted that we must have their chilled beef and that, therefore, we must take the risks of getting foot-and-mouth with it? Will not he have another full inquiry made as to what measures could be taken to safeguard our herds and flocks rather better?
I do not think the Argentine authorities are complacent about this matter. We have had to acknowledge that there are very great practical difficulties in establishing quarantine arrangements over there. Indeed, if it were done it might even increase the risk of incubation of the disease during the period of quarantine. The Argentine authorities have set up a permanent commission for the eradication of foot-and-mouth disease, but, of course, that is a long-term effort.
§ 13 and 14. Mr. Whitelaw
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1) if he will make an up-to-date statement about the progress of research into the causes and control of foot-and-mouth disease;
(2) if he is satisfied that the present slaughtering policy is still the only practical means of keeping this country free from foot-and-mouth disease.
Foot-and-mouth disease is caused by a highly infectious virus. The research being conducted at the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Institute at Pirbright, Surrey, is concerned with the determination of the fundamental properties of the virus found in this country and abroad and with problems of immunisation. Good progress is being made in evolving satisfactory vaccines, but I am satisfied that in this country slaughter is the cheapest and the only 376 fully effective method of controlling the sporadic outbreaks that occur.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the loss of valuable breeding stock and also the disruption of years of breeding policy is a very high price to pay for this immunity? Does not that mean that the production of an effective vaccine should be made a matter of the highest priority in agricultural research?
I agree that the effects are expensive and also very frustrating and disappointing to those who have taken many years to build up valuable herds, but it is quite clearly the cheapest policy for us at present. A policy of vaccination, even if it were effective, would be more expensive than the premium which we are at present having to pay for slaughter.
§ 15. Mr. Whitelaw
asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how soon compensation will be paid to those farmers whose herds have been slaughtered during the recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the Penrith area of Cumberland.
Compensation has been paid in full in all but four cases. Of these, two present certain complications and in the other two cases, the time allowed for appeals against valuation has not yet lapsed.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this very prompt payment will be most reassuring to farmers in the area, and in particular to those small farmers who have lost not only their stock but also their main source of income for some time in the shape of the monthly milk cheque?
As prompt payment as possible is the least that we can do to help in the rather tragic circumstances that are involved.