HL Deb 02 May 1928 vol 70 cc956-67

LORD STRACHIE had given Notice to ask the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture what Orders have been made to prevent the introduction of foot-and-mouth disease from abroad, and how they deal with the destruction of manure, refuse, offals, bones or other parts of carcases of animals; and also if they deal with the importation of vegetables, bulbs, packing hay and straw or wrappings of imported meat; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I made application at the Printed Paper Office for all the various Orders concerned with the points raised in my Question, but the only Order I was able to obtain was the one which I hold in my hand, the Animal Foodstuffs Order. I could not get any of the Orders referring to the destruction of manure, refuse, bones or the carcases of animals, or in regard to the imports of vegetables, bulbs, packing hay and straw, or wrappings of imported meat. I am not aware whose the fault is. I suppose the Ministry do not supply the Printed Paper Office with these Orders. I must say that I have before had occasion to complain of the way in which the Ministry neglects to keep your Lordships' House supplied with the various Orders made by the Ministry of Agriculture. In these days, when it is such a common practice in every Bill that is brought in, whether by the Ministry of Agriculture or other Departments, to take power to make all kinds of rules and regulations by Order in Council, it is more than ever necessary that those Orders should be easily-accessible to the members of your Lordships' House. I hope the noble Earl (the Earl of Stradbroke) will forgive me if I ask him to look into this matter and to see that in future Orders emanating from his Department are easily accessible to us.

As regards these Orders generally I cannot help thinking that they are of little value in preventing foot-and-mouth disease from spreading throughout the country. As a matter of fact we are continually having outbreaks of the disease, which is not stamped out by slaughter. Slaughter, no doubt, is a proper precaution, but I cannot help thinking that a good deal of the difficulty arises from the fact that instead of the Ministry having power under these Orders to enforce the various things which ought to be done, the carrying out of the necessary precautions is left entirely to the local authorities. The local authorities, no doubt, as far as they are able, carry out these Orders, but it is a very difficult thing indeed to carry out the Orders in large scattered counties. On the other hand it is to be remembered that very often the source of the infection arises outside the counties. It may arise in the great towns and, naturally, the great towns have no particular interest in the matter and do not bother their heads to see that the swill from big hotels or the bones or refuse or the hay or straw packing have been destroyed.

The Ministry so far has taken the view—certainly it was the view of the late Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry—that it was the duty of the farmer when hay or straw or refuse came into the farm, to sterilise it. When that was formerly said in this House by my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, who then represented the Ministry, I pointed out that it was all very well to tell the farmer that he ought to sterilise bones and swill and hay and straw packing, but that he was not able to do it because he had no apparatus. It would be much easier to say that the sterilisation ought to be done in the place where the swill was made or where the bones were. That would be much easier than throwing the whole onus on the farmer. Certainly, up to the present, these Orders have had very little effect, if indeed they have had any effect at all, in stopping foot-and-mouth disease from being spread about the country.

I have no doubt the noble Earl has had his attention called to a letter sent to him containing a resolution of the Somerset County Council regarding this matter. It is admitted on all hands that a large quantity of foreign meat comes from the Argentine (which is filled with foot-and-mouth disease) and that it is very likely to cause infection through the wrappers in which it is sent about this country. The Somerset County Council passed the following resolution:— There appears to be little reason to doubt that the recent outbreaks at Selworthy were due to infection from imported meat wrappers on a refuse dump to which cattle had access. We, therefore, desire to call attention to the serious danger to cattle of local dumps upon which meat, bones, wrappings and other similar refuse are thrown and to suggest the importance of the use of incinerators by sanitary authorities. That means the various urban authorities. The Council went on to pass this further resolution:— That this Council considers that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries should take immediate action to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease by imported meat wrappers.

I have no doubt the noble Earl has seen the reply of the Ministry, though I cannot for a moment think that he suggested such a letter, for one knows that he has been a prominent member of his own county council and the chairman of it. The Ministry's reply is as follows:— I am directed to refer to your letter of the 3rd inst. communicating resolutions of your committee"— they were not the resolutions of a committee, but of the Somerset County Council— dealing with recent outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease at Selworthy. In reply I am to state that the resolutions appeared to proceed on inconclusive evidence as to the contact of the affected animals concerned with imported meat wrappers. The reply goes on to make a long statement with which I need not trouble your Lordships. When a great county council, on proper evidence, has been satisfied by their committee that the disease was caused by contact with imported meat wrappers, the Ministry write to them and rather snub them, saying in effect: "You do not understand your business; while it may or may not have been the fact that the wrappers caused the infection you, the county council, have no evidence to show that it was." I do not think that is a proper way to treat agriculturists in this matter. I hope the noble Earl will look into the question and see that in future, when county councils complain, they are not told it is their own fault.

I have also asked in the Question about bones. No doubt a resolution moved the other day at the East Sussex Agricultural Committee by Sir George Court-hope has been brought to the notice of the noble Earl. That resolution called upon the Ministry of Agriculture to exercise its powers under the Diseases of Animals Acts in order to prohibit the importation of bones from countries where foot-and-mouth disease is prevalent, as the virus of the disease remains active for long periods in the bone marrow of chilled meat and cured bacon. I think it would be interesting if the noble Earl would tell your Lordships what reply has been sent, or is likely to be sent, to that resolution. That resolution not only represents the views of Sussex agriculturists but your Lordships may take it that it represents the views generally of agriculturists throughout the length and breadth of this country. They think that some precaution ought to be taken that bones are not allowed to be imported into this country from those countries where foot-and-mouth disease is rampant, thereby becoming a source of disease. I understand that to have boneless meat sent here is not a difficult process, but the noble Earl will correct me if that is wrong. No doubt he will tell us that up to the present moment nothing has been done in that direction.

I would urge upon him that there is a very strong feeling throughout this country that the Ministry in regard to these causes of infection are not taking such active steps or technical precautions as they might take to stamp out foot-and-mouth disease which, in a time of agricultural depression, is even more serious than at ordinary times. Although the farmer gets compensation for the destruction of his cattle—and I agree that he is paid liberally by the Ministry—on the other hand it is a serious thing for him to have his business entirely upset by the prevalence of the disease. I hope the noble Earl will give us some assurance that the Ministry will see whether they cannot take steps to prevent, this virus (which is now proved to exist for more than seventy days in the bone) from coming to this country, or if it is brought here to see that it is disinfected at once, instead of being allowed to be distributed all over the country as it is at the present moment. I beg to move.


My Lords, before my noble friend replies I would like to call attention to another source of danger. I called the attention of his Department a year ago to the fact that large quantities of young trees for planting were imported from the Continent. They are grown much cheaper in Belgium and elsewhere than is the case here. Those trees arrive beautifully packed in great quantities of straw, and at places where a large number of plants are unpacked you find great heaps of straw which are certainly a possible source of infection. I ascertained that nurserymen and foresters had not had their attention called to this danger, and I think it would be well to know if the Ministry of Agriculture has considered that matter in conjunction with the other possible sources of danger which have been mentioned by my noble friend opposite.


My Lords, in answer to the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Strachie, I think it would be best for me to read the list of Orders which have been made and then I can make a few remarks with regard to them. The Orders made by the Ministry of Agriculture with a view to preventing the introduction of disease into this country from abroad are: (1), The Foreign Animals Order of 1910, and amending Orders; (2), The Animals (Landing from Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man) Order of 1923, and amending Orders; (3), The Importation of Carcases (Prohibition) Order of 1926, and amending Orders; (4), The Foreign Hay and Straw Order of 1912, and amending Orders; (5), The Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Packing Materials) Order of 1925, and amending Orders; and (6), The Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Boiling of Animal Foodstuffs) Order of 1928. These Orders deal with many matters other than those which the noble Lord mentions in his Question, but I will explain how the particular points to which he refers are dealt with by those Orders.

By the first and second of these Orders the landing of animals is entirely prohibited from any country except Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, and this prohibition also extends to the manure of any animal which has died or has been slaughtered whilst on board a vessel—for example, animals killed for food for the passengers or crew—bound for this country. Offals, bones or other parts of carcases of animals other than from the Continent of Europe are not prohibited, but the Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Boiling of Animal Foodstuffs) Order of 1928 prohibits the feeding to animals, except after being boiled for at least one hour, of any meat, bones, offal or other part of the carcase of an animal or any swill or any other broken or waste feeding stuffs which have come in contact with parts of the carcase of an animal.

The fifth Order I mentioned enables me to answer my noble friend Lord Novar. The importation of vegetables is not dealt with in any Order of the Ministry, but the Packing Materials Order of 1925 and amending Orders prohibit the exposure for sale at any livestock market of any tree, shrub, plant, bulb or other horticultural product packed in hay or straw or the storing of such goods on any such premises. With regard to packing hay and straw the same Order prohibits hay and straw from any source which has been used for packing purposes from being brought into contact with any animal in Great Britain or from being moved from any premises except for use as packing or for the purpose of destruction. Hay or straw which has been used for packing, if not so used again is required to be destroyed. In this connection I may say that the landing of hay and straw, other than that used for packing, is prohibited except from the United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The Packing Materials Order also prohibits any meat cloths, sacking, or other wrappings used for meat or meat products from being brought into contact with any animal unless they have been boiled or otherwise sterilised after being so used, and also prohibits any box or basket used for the carriage of meat or meat products (except cooked or preserved meats or meat essences) from being brought into contact with animals.

I think that answers the questions which the noble Lord has put to me, but I may perhaps mention that the Importation of Carcases (Prohibition) Order of 1926, and the amending Orders, prohibit the landing of a carcase or any part of the carcase of any cattle, sheep, pigs or goats brought from the Continent of Europe. It was definitely established that infection had been introduced by fresh carcases imported from the Continent. The noble Lord also asked a question about fertilisers and bone material. I would state, with regard to the bones which are used for these purposes and which come from the southern hemisphere, that they are exposed to such heat and have to be so thoroughly dried to make them fit for transit through the Tropics that there is considered to be no danger at all from any virus existing in them when they arrive here. With regard to bones and offal imported from the Continent of Europe, they are only imported from factories which are licensed and which are visited by our inspectors. These factories are built so that the offal or bones are brought in at one end, thoroughly treated, and taken out at the other end of the factory for export, so that the treated material is never brought into contact with the raw material which might be infected as it comes in at the other end of the factory.

It has been suggested that one reason for the increase in the number of outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease is the growth in meat imports from South America, and with your Lordships' permission I will therefore examine the actual figures relating to the importation of meat. While the importation of chilled meat has increased from about 3,000,000 cwts. in 1921 to 10,000,000 cwts. in 1927, the trade was nevertheless very extensive before the War and even during part of the War period up to 1917, amounting to from two to five million cwts. Importations of frozen meat, which during the five years before the War averaged 3,700,000 cwts. per annum, increased considerably during the period 1915–1921, and have since gradually decreased to 3,000,000 cwts. in 1927. I know there is a feeling—the noble Lord has expressed it—that there is considerable danger from the importation of carcases into this country from South America. I would remind your Lordships, as I stated here not many weeks ago, that the Ministry has arranged with the respective South American Governments a scheme whereby all animals sent for slaughter to the frigorificos in South America intended for export to this country shall be efficiently examined in order to prevent as far as practicable the shipment of any carcase affected with foot-and-mouth disease. Obviously so far as concerns animal diseases, the proper place for the inspection of meat shipped to Great Britain is in the country of origin where the animals should be inspected alive and also their carcases after death.

Negotiations with the Brazilian, Uruguayan and Argentine Governments have recently been carried through, and your Lordships may be interested to be reminded that the Argentine Government has issued a Decree, with effect from the 1st February last, which provides that:—(a) animals cannot leave an estancia without a veterinary certificate that the animals on the estancia and the animals to be moved are free from foot-and-mouth disease; (b) animals cannot travel in wagons which have not been properly cleansed and disinfected, and the transport companies are responsible for seeing that this condition is carried out; (c) animals cannot leave markets for the frigorificos without a veterinary certificate to the effect that they are free from disease; (d) if animals awaiting slaughter in a frigorifico are found affected with foot-and-mouth disease they must be isolated until they have recovered before they are slaughtered and the carcases sent to Britain, while if the disease is only discovered in the slaughterhouses, then the meat from the animals must not be exported; (e) only new coverings for meat can be used; and (f) sixty or seventy additional veterinary inspectors will be appointed who will attempt to control the disease in the interior of the Argentine. A similar law has been made by the Uruguayan Government, while Brazil is dealing with the matter on the same lines by way of Regulations.

We must remember that up to the present time no definite evidence has been discovered that foot-and-mouth disease has actually been introduced into this country by chilled or frozen meat from South America or from other foot-and-mouth disease infected countries. That is all speculation. I cannot say whether there is any appreciable risk or not of its introduction in that way, but naturally the growth of the imports must increase any risk which may exist. I must emphasise, however, that no outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has been traced to imported chilled or frozen meat, and there would seem to be no evidence, therefore, that it is a source of infection. Nevertheless it must be admitted that, in view of the finding of the Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Committee that infection may persist in the bone marrow of a carcase for as long as seventy, six days, there is a risk that infection may be brought by means of such carcases. To guard against this risk the Ministry has already made the Order to which I have referred, prohibiting the feeding to animals of any animal matter until it has been boiled for at least an hour, and also prohibiting such foodstuffs from being brought into contact with animals until so treated. An Order also requires the packings in which meat is imported to be disinfected.

We recognise that the restrictions imposed in this connection are irksome to farmers and seriously interfere with their business and we realise that they incur great loss, although they receive compensation for cattle slaughtered. I should like to emphasise that the action of the Ministry is directed solely to the interests of the farmers themselves, the endeavour to stamp out the disease. Let me say again that farmers will realise, if they consider it carefully, that foot-and-mouth disease cannot be controlled by Government action only. Any such action, to be effective, must be coupled with the intelligent co-operation of the farmer. The issue of Orders dealing with the treatment of packing materials and swill so as to prevent their contact with animals liable to infection can only be effective if they are carefully observed to the letter. In many cases it is clear that failure to do this through carelessness or for any other reason has caused an outbreak to occur. Perhaps your Lordships might like to know that there have been several cases of failure or delay in reporting outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease. During the last six mouths fifteen cases have come to our notice in which fines have been levied amounting to £261, and £56 costs were incurred. In twelve of those cases it was thought necessary to deduct part of the compensation that should have been due for the slaughter of the animals.

I think that I have dealt with all the questions that the noble Lord put to me, and also with the question asked by the noble Viscount, Lord Novar. I hope I have made it clear to your Lordships that the Ministry are taking steps and are doing all they can to check any possible risk of infection. With regard to what was said by the noble Lord about a letter that was sent to a county council, I regret it if it was in terms that should not have been used, and I will have the matter looked into and see that it is carefully dealt with. There must have been some misunderstanding and, if there was any discourtesy in the reply, I am sure it cannot have been intended. I shall be very glad to look into the matter.


My Lords, I think there is no doubt that in South America there are at the present moment, and have been for some time outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, and I think it is also admitted that the virus exists in the bones of frozen carcases imported into this country or elsewhere for seventy-six days, or some period of that sort. The noble Earl says that it has not been proved that foot-and-mouth disease has been imported into this country through the importation of carcases from South America but, though that may be quite true, it is evident that the Ministry think that there is a very strong possibility that this has occurred or they would not take the precautions that the noble Earl has described to us. If I may say so, I feel very much indebted to the Ministry for the precautions they have taken, which, I think, go a very long way to meet the case, but they all depend upon how they are administered in a foreign country, and I did not gather from the noble Earl that we have any check over the administration by officials in those countries.

What I would like to ask the noble Earl is why he should not insist that any dead meat imported from a country that is known to be infected with foot-and-mouth disease shall be boned. That, I think, would at any rate go a long way to avoid any risk of infection in this country, and it is a matter over which we should have some control. The Regulations which the noble Earl has described as being enforced by the Argentine and other Governments are, no doubt, excellent in their way, but we are dependent on those Governments for carrying them out, and they in their turn are dependent upon their officials. If the suggestion that I have made were carried out, nothing could be imported into this country that had the virus of the disease in it, at least so far as I can understand from experts. One of my noble friends shakes his head. I made that remark rather in the hope that my noble friend would tell me if I was wrong. Perhaps he will.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Earl for the very full and interesting statement that he has made. As regards the various Orders, may I once more urge upon him that in future the Orders issued by his Ministry should be accessible to members of your Lordships' House, and that Orders dealing with foot-and-mouth disease, which are particularly interesting at the present time, should be sent to the Printed Paper Office and be available to your Lordships? As regards the control by local authorities, I thoroughly agree with what the noble Earl said to the effect that farmers must look after this matter themselves, and they do so through their local committees. The point that I made, and that the noble Earl did not, I think, answer was that it was not always the fault of the local authorities in rural areas, but of those in urban areas, who naturally do not trouble very much about this matter. Those are the people that I should like the noble Earl to have looked after by his inspectors, to see that in those urban districts the destruction of bones, etc., is properly carried out. There is no doubt a great deal of leakage in this matter at the present moment. I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.