HC Deb 28 March 1996 vol 274 cc1160-1
10. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what recent discussions he has had with his EC colleagues regarding the welfare of farm animals; and if he will make a statement. [21612]

Mrs. Browning

I refer the hon. Member to the answer my right hon. and learned Friend gave a few moments ago to the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert).

Mr. Mullin

Is the Minister aware that many people of all political persuasions will welcome the collapse in the odious trade in live exports that has resulted from the present crisis? Is she further aware that many of us gave up eating meat some years ago—not for health reasons, but because we were unable to justify the appalling cruelty that factory farmers inflicted upon farm animals? She can restore the confidence of many of us only by persuading the EC to amend the treaty so that live animals can be treated as sentient beings and not as agricultural products.

Mrs. Browning

My right hon. and learned Friend explained to the House today that the addition of a protocol would create a legally binding obligation, whereas amending the treaty itself would not necessarily meet the objective. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first remarks, he is free to take whatever decisions he likes about what he eats, and we all value the fact that he is able to do so. In time, however, he may well feel that his initial remarks were ill founded. There is a meat trade, and it is important that the highest standards apply—we have led the way on this—for animals reared in, and transported from, this country. We have pioneered the way in which those standards can be implemented across Europe, and that is the answer. We cannot just focus on what we do here, as what happens over the water is equally important in terms of animal welfare.

Mr. Gallie

Is my hon. Friend aware that today McDonald's is importing foreign beef products? Is she also aware that health observation in other countries throughout Europe is perhaps not so stringent as ours and that animal welfare considerations have been shown not to be of such great concern? Does she feel that McDonald's has made a great error of judgment?

Mrs. Browning

We shall work hard to encourage McDonald's to lift its decision on British beef as quickly as possible, because that will surely give confidence to the beef market both at home and abroad. We have no intention of allowing beef from other countries to undermine our marketplace here. We are studying imports of beef carefully to see that we can be absolutely sure that they comply with the sort of assurances on British beef that we give the population of this country.