HL Deb 02 September 1880 vol 256 cc1036-40

asked the Lord President of the Council, Whether he can give any information to the House on the subject of the Texan fever, and say what measures, if any, the Government will take to prevent its reaching this country?


desired to state what had occurred on the important subject referred to by the noble Earl during the last few weeks. Three vessels had arrived lately from America having on board cattle which were diseased. The first cargo came by the Iowa, and arrived on the 5th of August. It consisted of 304 head of cattle, and it appeared that 43 had been thrown overboard during the passage. When the report to that effect reached the Privy Council Office, it was stated by the local Inspector, a veterinary surgeon, at Liverpool, the port at which the cattle were landed, that some of the cattle had symptoms similar to those of what was called splenic apoplexy. An Inspector was accordingly sent down from London, whore-ported that the symptoms raised a strong suspicion that the cattle might he affected with Texan fever. Instructions were accordingly sent to all the ports at which American cattle arrived, requiring Reports to be forwarded as to their condition. A second cargo arrived at Birkenhead from Baltimore on the 23rd of August, consisting of 95 head of cattle; and it was stated that 26 had been thrown overboard, and six cases of suspected Texan fever were detected on post-mortem examination. On the 31st of August a vessel arrived at Cardiff from New York with 109 head of cattle on board. Three had died on the voyage, and two others had been slaughtered, and there were signs among these cattle also of Texan fever. Immediately on hearing these facts, he (Earl Spencer) desired the same Inspector—a man of great experience—to go down and make an investigation, and his Report had not yet been received. As the subject was one of great importance, he had requested his noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to ask Her Majesty's Consul at Boston to trace, if possible, whence these consignments of cattle came; but up to the present time they had not received that information. It would, therefore, be premature to declare with any degree of confidence that the cattle were suffering from the disease known as Texan fever; but there certainly were suspicious symptoms. The utmost care would be taken to watch the cattle as they arrived from America, and to carry out the orders which had been sent on the subject to the various ports. He would give their Lordships some information as to the disease so far as it was known in this country, or what was now stated might lead to some alarm. He might say that he had laid on the Table of the House yesterday the most recent Reports which had been received from America on the subject, and they would be circulated among their Lordships in the course of a few days. They contained at some length the opinions given by various important veterinary authorities in America in reference to Texan fever. The disease had been known in America for a great number of years. It was a disease of a very peculiar character. It appeared to have originated in the States of Texas and Florida, and had never spontaneously appeared in any State above the 34th degree of north latitude. As to the origin of the disease there was considerable difference of opinion. In the country itself—Texas—the native animals did not show that they had any disease in them; but there was this peculiarity about it—that when strange cattle were introduced into Texas they almost invariably contracted the disease and died. "When Texan cattle were brought to other States they left behind them a trail of disease; and other cattle which passed over the road on which they had travelled, or fed in the same pastures with them, contracted the disease, which proved fatal to the extent of 90 per cent. Whole districts were devastated by it, just as a tornado swept over a country destroying everything before it. It was very remarkable—as stated in the Reports—that strange cattle which contracted the disease never conveyed it to other cattle, and that Texan cattle, when removed to a northern climate, apparently lost the poison they had had about them in periods varying from six weeks to three months. Texan cattle brought into another State in the winter after the first frost were not dangerous. These were important matters to be known, because they would diminish, to a great extent, the alarm which might otherwise be felt as to the disease being introduced into this country. The disease had spread to a considerable extent in the United States; in 1866 and 1867 the fever existed in several States, and in 1868 it had reached New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and some of the New England States. The time occupied in the incubation of the disease varied from seven days to four or five weeks, and there were cases in which the incubation had gone on as long as three months. When once cattle were seized with the disease they died very rapidly, to the extent of 90 per cent. Although the fever had many of the characteristics of what was known as splenic apoplexy, it was quite distinct from it, and might easily be known from it. The fever was to be contracted only from the excreta of diseased animals or from grazing on the same pasture as diseased cattle, in which case it was probably contracted from the same cause. Diseases like cattle plague were infectious in the common sense of the term; they were communicated by men, clothes, birds, and dogs that had been in contact with the diseased cattle; but the Texan fever was not communicated by those means, but only by the excreta of the diseased animals. He really thought, therefore, there was practically little or no danger to the herds of this country. He must repeat that they did not know for certain whether the disease which had been imported was Texan fever; but even if it was, there was little or no danger to this country, because all American cattle were slaughtered at the port of landing, and the dead carcass did not communicate the disease; and, as the disease was communicated by excreta, he had given directions that all the manure of such a cargo was to be destroyed. As to whether the flesh of the diseased cattle was fit for human food, the Privy Council had no authority to decide the matter. All they could do was, if they knew of the arrival of any cattle which had the disease, to make it known to the sanitary authority on whom the responsibility rested. As far as he could gather from the evidence in the Reports drawn up in America on the subject, it was supposed that no injurious effects had arisen from the drinking of the milk or the eating of the meat of the cattle which had the disease. At the same time, as there was still some doubt as to what the disease was from which the cattle suffered that had arrived on board the ships referred to, he had thought it right to call the attention of the Local Government Board to the subject, in order that they might, if they thought fit, communicate with the local sanitary authorities. That there was no danger from eating the cooked flesh of animals having the fever was not entirely clear; but there was, no doubt, great danger to dogs and other animals in the eating of the raw flesh of beasts that had had splenic apoplexy. The matter was one that created a good deal of interest in this country; and there would be alarm among stockholders if they did not understand the nature of the disease and the precautions which he had thought it right to take with regard to imported cattle. He hoped the precautions taken, with the able assistance of the Veterinary Department of the Privy Council, would be sufficient to secure safety, so that he might say there was practically no danger to the stock of this country from this disease.


asked whether the cattle brought to this country had come direct from Texas, or whether they were cattle from the Eastern States which had contracted the disease?


said, that he had lost two cows from splenic apoplexy, which did not appear to be infectious, as these were poisoned by palm nut meal which had been heated and made rancid. He believed the great danger to cattle was going into Texas, and he hoped that none would be brought out.


said, the question was a very important one, and, in the endeavour to arrive at an answer to it, he had asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to communicate with the Consul at Boston to trace the animals, in order that they might know whether they actually came from the West.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.

The Lord Boyle—Chosen Speaker in the absence of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Commissioner.