§ 2.39 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether any information is available as to the method of inoculating cattle against foot-and-mouth disease which is being successfully used in parts of South America; and, if not, whether it can be technically investigated to ascertain if it could he used with equal success in Great Britain.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, I hope that I may be permitted to answer this important Question, in some detail. Vaccination against foot-and-mouth disease has long been practised in South America, and also in other parts of the world where the disease is endemic, or enzootic, and widespread. Information about the methods used was given in Chapter III of the Report of the Departmental Committee on Foot-and-Mouth Disease (Cmd. 9214) published in 1954 (the Gowers Committee).
My right honourable friend is familiar with the situation in the South American countries. Indeed, three of our veterinary officers are permanently stationed there to assist the authorities in dealing with foot-and-mouth disease, particularly in 'the context of the fulfilment of the Bledisloe Agreement, which regulates the transit and inspection of animals and carcases intended for export to this country. Recently, new measures have been introduced in the Argentine, and we welcome these further steps towards the ultimate goal of eradication.
My Lords, vaccination against foot-and-mouth disease is sound policy only where there is so much of it that compulsory slaughter is impracticable. In our own country, which is an island, we are fortunate that the disease is not always with us. When an outbreak does occur in this country, by far the most effective way of dealing with it is to stamp it out by the compulsory slaughter of infected animals and dangerous con 262 tacts. The Departmental Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Ernest Gowers, to which I have already referred, was emphatic that on economic grounds this was the right policy for this country.
Finally, the European Commission for the Control of Foot-and-Mouth Disease, to which we belong, has recommended that those member countries which are not yet in a position to use yet in a position to use compulsory slaughter should seek, by vaccination and other control measures, to reduce the incidence of the disease to the point where a slaughter policy becomes practicable. Nobody doubts the wisdom of this policy objective, which other countries, less fortunate than our own, are striving to attain.
§ LORD BOSSOM
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that last year alone it cost us about £2 million in compensation for the animals that had to be slaughtered? Would it not be well worth while to see if we could not work out while to see if we could not work out some policy whereby we could inoculate animals or do something? This situation is very difficult for farmers, their workers and the nation as whole.
My Lords, I am well aware that it cost about £2 million this year and about £2¼ million in the great outbreak in 1952 in this country. But if the noble Lord will read the Gowers Report he will see that the estimate there is that to do a proper vaccination policy would cost at least £24 million a year. Vaccines may have got cheaper, but the cost would be infinitely more than the cost of compensation for eradication.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would agree that it is a fairly widespread opinion here that the slaughter policy has been a reasonably good one in this country for a long time past. But is it not a fact, as reported in the Farming Express last week, that in Belgium, in particular. where they have suffered again and again from the results of endemic foot-and-mouth disease in Germany and contiguous countries, they are now using a new vaccine, and that the results have been so stupendous that there has been a reduction in the number of cases in one 263 year from nearly 400 down to 3? The success of that policy there surely means that we ought to be considering this new vaccine, and whether, in fact, in the long run we should get a more efficient and probably cheaper method of dealing with the disease than we have at present. I am not running down the past policy at all.
My Lords, I think there is a basic misconception here. I have not the figures for Belgium in my head, but I have them for Holland, because I also read those articles in the Farming Express, in which Holland was mentioned. I wonder whether noble Lords are aware that in our worst out-break since the war, in 1952, we had 495 outbreaks. In 1951, Holland had more than 20,000 outbreaks, with a much smaller livestock population. Vaccination is the only possible way in a country where the disease, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition has said, is endemic or enzootic, as it is not in this country. If you can get it down to manageable proportions by vaccination, then you adopt the slaughter policy. In our worst years we have under 500 outbreaks a year: these Continental countries have tens of thousands.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl if experiments are going on with a view to the cure of this disease, or if that is impossible because you would have to slaughter the animals on which you experiment?
It is not a question of a cure for this disease. The disease is seldom fatal: the difficulty is the after-effects of this disease. They are all listed in the Gowers Report, and I am sure that the noble Lord knows of them. They range over the most horrifying ailments that cattle can have, from abortion to losing their feet, and a general lowering of productivity, especially as to milk. It is not a question of curing this disease but of stopping it spreading.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
But would the noble Earl not think it wise to give some special attention to the results of the new vaccine at the moment being used in these Continental countries? Because although, as I say, we agree with the policy 264 adopted in the past, we do get regular recurrences of infection, not only from swill but also from germs carried by birds from the Continent. It seems to me that we should give attention to this kind of progress right through these countries on the Continent from which we get that sort of infection, watch it for a year or two and then reconsider our position here.
I am not prepared to say that we can reconsider our position. What I do say is that our laboratory at Pirbright, under Dr. Galloway, is probably the leading research laboratory on this disease in the world; and we are working hard on it all the time. I am not aware, without notice, of this new vaccine, but it is probably a new method of producing vaccine from a dead tissue instead of from a live tissue. Economies in vaccine production are going on all the time, and will continue; but the policy of vaccination would not be right in this country.
§ LORD AMWELL
My Lords, can the Minister say whether he knows, or whether the Government know, anything about the practice in the Scandinavian countries, I think it is, of treating foot-and-mouth disease by immersing the cattle in mud baths? I understand that is has been very successful.
I am not personally aware of that, but will take the advice of my experts and will let the noble Lord know what we think about it.
§ LORD BOSSOM
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the exhaustive answers which he has given to us. But would it not be well worth while to look further into this matter and see if we cannot follow up some process which would help, in addition to what is being done now? He has no doubt seen the resolution passed by the National Farmers' Union this very week, trying to stop animals coming to us from the Argentine. I am sure the situation would benefit if we could give it a little more attention than we are giving it to-day.
My Lords, I do not want to prolong this discussion —this is not a debate—but I cannot allow the impression to be given that we are not doing all we can. We are very 265 fully considering all the latest forms of research in this country, and I could not admit that there is any new avenue that we ought to investigate in that way.