HC Deb 05 February 2004 vol 417 cc890-2
6. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con)

What precautions are in place to prevent the infection of the national flock of chickens with bird influenza virus; and if she will make a statement. [152869]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

The Government have banned imports from all the affected countries of all live birds, unprocessed poultry meat, and other bird products capable of transmitting the avian flu virus.

Michael Fabricant

I thank the Minister for his answer. Of course, he gave a fuller answer when he answered the urgent question last Wednesday. Thankfully, answering that question, he said that the risk of the disease being transmitted to the UK poultry flock is low", but that as an additional precaution he would be asking ports to be extra vigilant and to prohibit the importation of consignments that do not fully comply with the rules."—[Official Report, 28 January 2004; Vol. 417, c. 313.] I hate coming back to the same old subject, but the Minister will have read the Home Office reports on the integrity of British ports. He has said in the House on a number of previous occasions that there are now two sniffer dogs to detect the illegal importation of poultry and beef and that eventually there will be six. There are more than 100 ports. When will he stop being complacent—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman's question is far too long.

Mr. Bradshaw

Not only long, Mr. Speaker, but repetitive. As I have told the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) several times, that is a matter for Customs and Excise, which is doing an excellent job; it is hugely increasing the amount it spends on checking at airports and trebling the number of sniffer dogs. In the next financial year, Customs will hugely increase the amount of money it spends on those things.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)(Lab)

Pursuant to my question to the Minister on his statement last Wednesday, has he had any joy from Professor Ian Maudlin and the Roslin Institute or, indeed, any other leading research department in Britain, in order to help those countries that have a heck of a problem?

Mr. Bradshaw

Yes, indeed. Immediately after the urgent question last week, I asked my officials to make contact with the institute to which my hon. Friend referred. Those contacts have been made, and I am sure that such help and expertise will help not only us but the whole international community in addressing this serious problem.

David Burnside (South Antrim) (UUP)

Until the threat of this foreign virus is removed, will the Minister give a commitment to contact personally the chairmen of Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury and all our major supermarket chains—indeed, he could even write to Colonel Sanders of KFC—to ask that those chains stock only good, healthy, fresh British chickens?

Mr. Bradshaw:

I think it would be very wrong if the House were left with the impression that it is unsafe to eat the chicken products on the shelves of our supermarkets. That is not the case. The Food Standards Agency has made it absolutely clear that there is no risk at all of catching avian flu from consuming chicken products. The products that I outlined have been banned for import anyway. However, I always advise, as I did last week in answer to the urgent question, that consumers should buy British.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)(Lab)

My hon. Friend will be aware that avian influenza can be devastating to susceptible birds. In my constituency, there are a number of small poultry farms. Is my hon. Friend sure that the DEFRA information pack has reached those small farmers so that they are aware of what to look out for?

Mr. Bradshaw

I very much hope so, but after Question Time I shall check that it has. My hon. Friend is right but, as I said last week, it is also the case that the threat to our flocks from avian flu was much more serious last year when there was an outbreak across the channel in the Netherlands. It is highly unlikely that there will be any infection in our flocks as a result of an outbreak in south-east Asia, but we are taking all the necessary precautions available to us. However, my hon. Friend is right—any outbreak would be extremely serious.

Forward to