§ 5.20 p.m.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should now like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Statement is as follows:
"Madam Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement about the meeting of the Agriculture Council which finished yesterday evening. I represented the United Kingdom assisted by my noble friends the Parliamentary Under-Secretaries at the Scottish and Northern Ireland Offices and by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Welsh Office.
"The Council discussed the reform of the Community fruit and vegetables regime and the Commission's proposals for this year's farm price fixing. Both are important matters and I set out the United Kingdom position on the lines I have explained to the House on many occasions.
"The Council also discussed BSE. I put before the Council a dossier of information setting out the measures the UK has taken. I shall place a copy of that dossier in the Library of the House. My first objective at the Council was naturally to achieve action on the export ban. Progress was made on this and the conclusions of the Council explicitly recognise that the ban is temporary. They also recognise that the measures already put in place and foreseen form, and I quote, 'part of a process which should allow the export ban to be progressively lifted on a step by step basis'.
"In addition, the Council has recognised that the lifting of the ban in respect of tallow, gelatine and semen should be addressed in the Standing Veterinary Committee shortly. As the House knows, the relevant decisions are taken by qualified majority vote in the Standing Veterinary Committee, not in the Council. The next meeting of the Standing Veterinary Committee takes place next week.
"Nevertheless, this welcome progress should not obscure the fact that the ban is disproportionate and unjustified. Accordingly, I made it clear to the Council and recorded in a formal UK statement that on the basis of the scientific evidence available there should be an early and complete lifting of the ban.
1686 "Accordingly, we are proceeding with our application to have the ban set aside by the European Court of Justice under Article 173 of the treaty. Our application is in an advanced stage of preparation and will be lodged very shortly. The House will also know that the National Farmers Union has been granted leave to seek judicial review of the export ban and I understand that the matter is expected to be referred to the ECJ on 3rd May.
"I turn now to the selective cull. The Council accepted that the proposals I have put forward involving the culling by farm of birth of age cohorts born after September 1990 in which there have been cases of BSE were very much in the right direction. It was also agreed that it would be helpful to investigate whether additional measures targeted on herds where there had been many cases of BSE would be justified. This is a point which is obviously worth careful consideration, and my officials will be entering into technical discussions on this shortly. It is, however, already clear that should we proceed with a cull, the scheme we have put forward will form the major component of any such policy and that the scale of any measure finally put in place will be very much on the lines I have already indicated to the House.
"Finally, I turn to the link between a lifting of the ban and the selective cull. The Government's position remains as it has always been. The two must proceed in parallel.
"As regards the beef market, I am glad to say that the partial recovery has continued. Consumption is now at some 80 per cent. of pre-crisis levels for good quality cuts and average market prices are 109p. per kilo compared to 120p. per kilo before the crisis. The scheme for the slaughter of male calves has been operational from 22nd April and the scheme for the disposal of cattle over 30 months at the end of their working lives will start operation tomorrow. This follows a decision of the Management Committee on 26th April when, on our proposal, specific provision was made for payments to be made on a deadweight as well as a liveweight basis. This follows strong representations from the farming unions.
"Madam Speaker, I know that many Members and their constituents are concerned about how this scheme—I shall call it the 30-month slaughter scheme—will work in practice. The first point is that the scheme is now launched. The first cattle are likely to be processed tomorrow. Over 60 abattoirs and 80 markets across the UK will act as collection centres. Farmers will be anxious to have the finalised details. We shall be sending direct to farmers a note setting out all they need to know about the new arrangements.
"So, Madam Speaker, I would summarise the position thus. In our view the ban that has been imposed by the European Union is unjustified and should be removed. The conclusions arrived at yesterday have established a process which could achieve this. I very much hope that the Commission and all member states will play a full and active part in resolving this grave and urgent problem."
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place by his right honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I declare an interest. I am involved in the dairy sector.
Given the title of the Statement, "The Outcome of the Council of Ministers", one is tempted to ask what the outcome was and, indeed, whether there is any real progress to report. We welcome the confirmation that the export ban is temporary. According to the Statement, it will be lifted "progressively". Can the Minister give some idea—any idea at all—of the likely timescale? How progressive will the lifting of the so-called "temporary" ban be? What stages will be involved? How long will it all take?
We also welcome the Minister's reference to the Government's intention to go ahead with a legal challenge to the ban under Article 173 of the treaty. Can the Minister say when that will be lodged? He said that it would be done shortly. Article 173 allows the Court of Justice to review the legality of acts of the Council and the Commission. However, perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to Article 186, which states:The Court of Justice may in any cases before it prescribe any necessary interim measures".That point was made on an earlier Statement by my noble friend Lord Mishcon. Is anything resembling an injunction open to the European Court of Justice? Is there any temporary relief that we could plead under Article 186 of the treaty?
I turn now to the selective cull which was first described last week. I hope that the Minister will understand that there will be great uncertainty in the farming industry. As I understand it, the selective cull is not to be imposed until there is some sign of a lifting of the ban. That means that all those farms that know that they might be subject to the selective cull are in limbo. They are not at all sure what will happen. Cohort farms do not know whether they can sell any cattle. There will be a great deal of uncertainty on those farms.
Furthermore, if farms which are outside the selective slaughter scheme and farms which have had cases of BSE involving animals born before September 1990 were now to have just one case of BSE involving an animal born after September 1990, such farms would now have to slaughter all the other animals born in that year inside the herd as milking animals. I hope that the Government will understand that compensation must be generous to such farmers if there is not to be a perverse incentive to try to hide such a single case.
On the scale of the selective slaughter, perhaps I may repeat the Statement, which states that,the scale of any measure finally put in place will be very much on the lines I have already indicated to the House".That can only mean that the Government are thinking of the order of the 40,000 cattle mentioned originally. It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that.
I am afraid that, as we said last week on the previous Statement, we are now in a numbers game. The Council of Ministers will be trying to ratchet up the numbers for 1688 each concession. I fear that because of the approach they have adopted the Government are now in a very weak negotiating position.
The Government have said that the lifting of the ban and the selective cull have to proceed in parallel. It is hard to understand how that can happen. How can one have a partial selective cull and a partial lifting of the ban? It seems to me that the Statement does not add up.
I return to the 30-month scheme which, I understand, starts tomorrow. Is the Minister aware of the reaction of a number of substantial retailers who have said that they are not prepared to buy beef from slaughterhouses which are engaged in the 30-month scheme? Even though slaughtering takes place only on certain days or on certain lines, they will refuse to buy beef from those slaughterhouses because of the risk of cross-infection. If the Government are aware of this, I shall be interested to hear their reactions. Can the Minister say how far the Government have gone with the exemption scheme? It is important that those producers who produce clean beef from animals over 30 months of age know where they are. We know that these animals are stacking up in the supply chain and that forage stocks are nearly gone. Those farms face a serious problem. The introduction of the selective slaughter scheme and the way that it has been devised means that the Government agree—as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said last week—that the feed ban was transgressed either on farms or in feed mills, or both. My honourable friend Dr. Gavin Strang, the spokesman in the other place, has asked the Government whether they will institute an inquiry into the matter. If the Government are aware that the feed ban has been transgressed—they have admitted it—will they be prepared to consider prosecutions?
I turn to the statement of the Council itself, which is quite worrying. Reference is made to the extension of the selective slaughter scheme. The Government have said that it will be on the same scale as already mentioned. However, the Council say:The Council has however noted the case for strengthening the programme, through additional measures particularly targeted on herds where a significant number of cases of BSE has been detected. This should contribute to a more substantial and rapid reduction in the incidence of BSE. To this end, the Council has invited the Commission to further investigate with the UK delegation these additional measures within the Standing Veterinary Committee together with Member States' veterinary experts".It is clear that the Council is building these additional measures, which are not defined, into the lifting of the ban. Perhaps the Minister can tell us the scale of the additional measures that may be required. It is extremely worrying. We all agree that the selective slaughter scheme is itself unjustified on scientific grounds, but it is clear that the Council expects the extension of the selective scheme to be central to the lifting of the ban. It would be interesting to know details of the Portuguese scheme for the complete eradication of BSE, which is also mentioned in the Statement.
The Council also has proposals for what it calls a holistic approach to research into both BSE and CJD. I hope that this is not simply a delaying tactic. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the Government adopt a new approach to research and development in this area. It must have occurred to the Government that the 1689 short-term contracts encouraged by the Government cannot be beneficial to the crucial work that is being done into BSE, CJD or any other research area. Does the Minister agree that the prior options programme for the selling off of our research establishments must now be abandoned? The units which are investigating BSE and CJD should not be subject to all the uncertainty and upheaval that the prior option scheme entails. BSE and CJD will be with us for a number of years. Long-term research needs to be done by scientists in the public sector who do not have to spend their time looking for their next jobs.
To conclude, we certainly support the Government in seeking an end to the export ban and restoring consumer confidence, but we fear that this crisis will be with us and the industry for a long time yet.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The Statement says that the ban is disproportionate and unjustified. I agree. I do not believe that we should get carried away. It is certainly unjustified in terms of scientific proof, but it is perfectly understandable bearing in mind the panic that we got ourselves into over the Statement, which was not cleared up until well into the weekend. In particular, the German reaction is very understandable. The Minister says in the Statement that home consumption has recovered to 85 per cent. I understand that German consumption is down by 50 per cent. I believe that all talk of retaliation and shouting should be greatly discouraged. I know that the Minister is not talking like that, but certain members of the Conservative Party are. That cannot help in any way.
I understand that an appeal to the European Court of Justice is to be lodged shortly. I ask the Minister how it is that the National Farmers Union has already put in a plea which is expected to be referred to the European Court of Justice on 3rd May? It appears to me that the NFU was slightly smarter than the Ministry of Agriculture.
I deal next with culling. I object to the business of age cohorts. I would have thought that "generations of calves" would be more understandable than "age cohorts". No doubt the Minister understands it perfectly. Does it mean that if a farmer is shown to have a big percentage of BSE the whole of that age may well be slaughtered as a selective cull? The Scottish Office said in a statement that the culling of whole herds implied that BSE was transmitted from animal to animal whereas all of the available evidence was that that was not happening. But the statement added, "or not at any significant level". I would have thought that if it occurred in any herd there would be a case for the culling of that herd on the French scale, or of that particular generation. I know that the Minister has been deeply involved in this matter. Perhaps he can provide more details as to how it will happen, because it is enormously important to farmers all over the country.
We keep using language such as "step by step" and "Should we proceed with the cull?" That does not give a good indication of our intention. If we believe that the 1690 cull will help us it does not matter what the Europeans say. We should proceed with that level of culling which we believe will help to eradicate the disease or concern.
It is gratifying that average prices in the beef market are as much as 109 pence per kilo, compared with 120p. Perhaps the Minister will reassure the House that there will be a top-up scheme for animals which are slaughtered under the scheme to bring the price up to where it was before the crisis. Perhaps he will confirm that the Government have abandoned the poor devils who had to sell their animals at 80p. or 90p. per kilo in the run-up to the scare.
The next matter is a very important point, certainly to a number of farmers in Scotland. I refer to the question of how to assess an animal of 36 months. Has the two broad teeth level been abandoned and the more sensible four broad teeth level been brought in? Referring to Galloway, Welsh Black and Highland cattle, which do not mature until they are three years, do the Government have any scheme to ensure that this admirable beef is allowed into the market and is not rendered for some impossible purpose?
Things appear to be moving a little, but they are not moving fast enough. The Minister should give assurances to British farmers that there will be a British scheme which does not depend upon negotiations. If we do that, in my view and that of many people, it will have far more effect on the Council of Ministers than if we say, "We will do a culling if you agree to lift the ban".
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about the timescale of the ECJ action. As I said in the Statement, the matter will be lodged shortly. We are looking at all the legal options in terms of the main 173 action, the injunctions, and the interim verdicts which are available via other routes. It is important that we get the right application in as soon as we can. The work of the lawyers is being done as fast and as comprehensively as possible. We want to ensure that we get this one right.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, pointed out that the farmers were ahead of us in their action. The two actions are different. The farmers' case has been somewhat more straightforward to prepare.
On the selective cull, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked what scale we might be moving on to and if any change were contemplated. I repeat the assurances we have repeatedly given. We are talking about tens of thousands of cattle rather than the hundreds of thousands or millions of cattle that were being bandied around by some commentators. We are determined to be guided by the veterinary scientists and the views of the farming industry. We must of course seek approval from Parliament on the issue. There are some strong factors which we must take into account when forming any final view.
The compensation involved will be generous, especially at a time of uncertain beef markets. There will be no incentive for farmers to rid themselves of beasts on the basis that they might obtain a better return. Even if the beasts that later turn out to be eligible for 1691 selective cull are moved off farms, the paper work now available will enable us to trace those beasts in order to deal with them.
The approach we have adopted has been guided by our own veterinary scientists. One of the encouraging points at the Council of Ministers was that the Commission itself described our proposal as logical and rational. It went on to say that its own vets could not think of a more credible scheme. We felt that we were working in the right direction. As to proceeding in parallel, it is important that a gesture such as this, which is not necessary in terms of the advice we have received from SEAC but which will, nevertheless, accelerate the decline in the incidence of BSE, is linked to the lifting of the ban, especially as the ban is so disproportionate and unjustified.
The fact that some retailers may not want to buy from plants which are also in the culled-cow programme is a decision which is entirely up to them. We shall stipulate that there is a clear separation, in time and space within the slaughterhouses and the lairage, between beef that comes from animals aged under 30 months and meat coming from animals aged over 30 months which is destined for disposal. We expect that in most cases that separate days will be allocated to the different duties should single slaughterhouses be operating in both markets. It is also likely that some slaughterhouses will specialise in one programme or another.
I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, about the Portuguese scheme for eradicating BSE. The Commission is aware of it, but few other members of the EU are. We believe that it will be passed on to us.
On exemptions, which are important and logical in every way, we are making good progress. We are consulting. We believe that the prospects are hopeful, in that the Commission is anticipating an application for such exemptions.
In terms of the R&D programme, we have had, and continue to have, a substantial programme which is run through MAFF. The MAFF research budgets for this financial year amount to £121 million. Spending on BSE research has increased by nearly 20 per cent.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, made a somewhat strange suggestion when he said that the ban was not justified in terms of the scientific advice but might be justified in terms of reaction by consumers.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, with respect, I said that it was understandable.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I do not understand that at all. It was the ban itself that helped provoke the depth of reaction. There may have been consumers in other countries who saw this as just a foreign news story until the European Commission suddenly decided that a world-wide ban was justified, despite a lack of scientific evidence. That made them think that there may have been more to the story than met their eyes. I believe that the ban remains unjustified by any yardstick.
With regard to the Scottish Office document, which refers to transmission not occurring between animals or not at any significant level, we are back in the realms 1692 of the oblique language used by scientists in proving a negative. There is no evidence of transmission between animals through contagion or genetically from mothers to daughters. But if one asks scientists to prove a negative absolutely, they usually come up with remarks which involve phrases such as, "not at any significant level", just because they cannot prove the negative.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said that if the cull might be justified anyway, why bother to link it to the raising of the ban. The point I made to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, is vital here. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, comes from Scotland, I shall give him the relevant Scottish figures. In 1993, 2,300 cases of BSE were recorded; in 1994 they had dropped to just over 1,000; and in 1995 they had dropped to 600. This year we anticipate a figure of about 300. The decline in incidence is fast and dramatic. The cull will merely accelerate that already fast decline. That is why we believe that if we are to make the additional effort it will be legitimate that the ban be lifted.
Finally, I can assure the noble Lord that the top-up scheme will continue to operate. We recognise that there are steers and heifers which command a value well above the cull-cow main compensation value. We shall continue to recognise that.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, he did not answer my question about intervention. Will it continue, because there are 60,000 animals stacked up? Are we going to have intervention to assist with the quick disposal and clearing of markets? I may have forgotten to ask that question.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I shall check Hansard because I have no memory of being asked about intervention. The scheme will continue. Since 20th March we have on two separate occasions made the entire intervention package significantly more attractive to the UK industry.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, can my noble friend say when the hearing of the motion to quash the ban is likely to begin in the European Court? In addition, is it possible to give an estimate of how long the procedure of that court will cause the hearing to continue and to say when we can expect a decision? Perhaps one is a little cynical about whether the Court is likely to proceed expeditiously, but I should be glad to hear what the Government believe to be the likely timetable for the hearing of the motion.
Secondly, can my noble friend be more precise about the likely size of the cull? He used the expression "tens of thousands", which he will agree is not a statement of precision. Can he give some idea, however approximate, of the scale of the cull and therefore of the direct cost of this unfortunate event to the British economy?
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for asking those two questions. As regards the legal timetable, we are convinced that we have right on our side and therefore we are pressing for the fastest possible track. A number of options will be weighed up 1693 as and when we reach them; for instance, whether interim judgments are sought en route. We are talking about a matter of days before our application is lodged and therefore of a number of weeks before the action will start.
As regards the cull, the proposal that we have lodged, and which is out to consultation with appropriate groups in this country, will involve a cull of about 42,000 animals. Perhaps I may remind the House that there are about 12 million cattle in this country and therefore the number involved is small. The cull is targeted at the group of cattle believed to be at highest risk of contracting BSE.
The suggestions which may well be made to us by EC vets and by vets in other countries will be worth looking at. We will consider them but I repeat the assurances that I gave to the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Mackie, that parliamentary approval will be needed for any such programme. We will want the support of our fanning industry in any such programme and we want the UK veterinary community to support it. At the end of the day, I do not believe that this House or another place will back such a programme if it is seen to be disproportionate to the benefit it brings.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister further on the legal aspects of the matter which were brought forward by his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. May we take it that the application to the European Court will be for a declaration that the particular decision is null and void? Alternatively, is the application to have an interim injunction disposed, or for such relief as the Court may think fit? We need to know the kind of sting and will that lie behind what the Government propose to do.
I presume that in the most likely event the decision is manifestly null and void. Indeed, on the face of it that is so. Is it the Government's intention to proceed for an action for damages in view of the fact that the Commission's decision is entirely illegal? It is based on illegality not only as regards the treaties but as regards the Council directives which are referred to in it. Can the Minister ensure the House that the Government's attitude towards this matter is robust because it is intolerable that a non-elected Commission is entitled to issue an instruction affecting a sovereign state for which there is no legal foundation whatever?
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I can assure the House and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, that we will be very robust on the matter. We believe that the most intolerable aspect is that the ban is completely unjustified and disproportionate and in many senses ludicrous. There is no scientific evidence on which to base the ban which has been imposed upon us.
The question of whether we are seeking interim relief and any of the other options that the noble Lord outlined will become clear over a short timescale when the action is initiated.
§ Lord Stanley of Alderley
My Lords, I wish to declare an interest as a farmer. I hope that my noble 1694 friend realises the vital importance of producing a timetable as soon as possible and of clarifying the type of cull that will take place. I believe that we are importing meat from the Argentine, among other countries. Can my noble friend tell the House how carefully inspected is the meat and how carefully it is slaughtered? Is it slaughtered, graded, inspected and kept as in the United Kingdom?
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I can assure my noble friend Lord Stanley that the meat imported from countries such as the Argentine is inspected in the normal and rigorous way in which we inspect all imported foodstuffs. We have strict criteria with which all foodstuffs must comply. Perhaps I may remind the House that imported meat comes from countries such as the Argentine which are BSE free; they have no record of the disease. Meat imported from countries which have had instances of BSE can come only from animals under 30 months of age.
As regards the timetable which I outlined in a broad format for my noble friend, all farmers will receive the information directly from the Government about the exact details of the programmes. Furthermore, across the United Kingdom advertisements will be taken in the relevant journals so that all those who need to have the information will have an adequate opportunity to obtain it.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I declare an interest as a dairy farmer. Perhaps I may ask the Minister two questions? First, can he give any indication of when the export of cattle for breeding purposes to non-European Union countries will be allowed again? Secondly, can he tell us what studies are being undertaken of the geographical distribution of BSE? Is not that matter extremely important and relevant to the cull?
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, we would like to see as soon as possible the opportunity to export cattle for breeding purposes. There is no reason why such exports should not be taking place this very minute. There is no logic nor reason behind the ban. We will do what is best for the industry. At present it is possible that a progressive lifting of the ban will be a faster and more beneficial solution to the problem than a complete lifting in one gesture. We are pursuing all options as vigorously as possible. Given that a progressive lifting may be the most effective solution, we are about to apply for exemptions to be endorsed so enabling us to identify categories of animals which would be justified for such exemptions.
As regards the geographical distribution of BSE, scientists' knowledge of the subject is that it is almost certainly feed related. Although we have good records and have compiled them all through computers in order to indicate the spread of BSE, the main inquiry of the veterinary experts relates to the cattle which have been sharing the same feedlots rather than necessarily being geographically intimate or remote.
§ Lord Hughes
My Lords, it has been stated that if there is an appeal to the European Court the ban would continue to be in operation until the Court reached a 1695 decision. It has been stated further that the Court normally takes a period of months before it reaches a decision. Have the Government any reason to believe that they can obtain a decision in weeks rather than months? Will they be asking for a decision from the Court as a matter of urgency?
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, we have one principal aim; that is, to bring about an early lifting of the ban. We shall pursue every conceivable route towards that objective. We shall negotiate and we shall use other methods and routes such as legal action. As I assured my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter, the opportunities which arise through the legal system for fast-track judgments or interim judgments will be considered and explored wherever that is to our advantage. We want the ban lifted as quickly as possible. That is what we are striving to do.
§ Lord Marlesford
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a dairy farmer. I thank my noble friend for emphasising once again that there is no scientific evidence that BSE is linked to CJD. I thank him also for pointing out that there is therefore no scientific justification for the ban in terms of human health.
Given that he referred a few moments ago to the fact that at present BSE is feed related and that it is therefore most important to eliminate that cause, what do the Government propose to do about what appears to be a loophole in the context of feed supplied to cattle still being produced from lines which could be contaminated? I have received a letter from J. Bibby Agriculture Limited dated 11th April which states:We stopped using SBO and Meat & Bone in our ruminant rations in June 1988. We do not have dedicated production lines, but we do operate a quality system designed to minimise cross contamination".Do the Government believe that that is good enough? Would it not be better to introduce rules which eliminate the risk of cross-contamination?
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, the recent decision to prevent the feeding of mammalian protein to any livestock on farms—and that includes horses—is designed to prevent leakage which may be occurring either on farms or in feed mills. We realise that it is within the feed industry and feed practices that, mostly unintentionally, there have been imperfections. Both with the regulations that we have introduced and with the progressive tightening of existing regulations, which we shall inspect so as to ensure compliance, we are determined to close off any possibility of continuing BSE infections from such sources. We take that very seriously indeed.
§ Lord Winston
My Lords, will the Government tell us what steps will be taken to examine the brains of the animals which are being culled histologically and whether or not the findings of the histopathology will be made available to Parliament and publicly? If it is not possible to examine all the brains, will the Minister give an indication of what percentage of the brains will be examined so that we can judge the effectiveness of 1696 the cull and also how necessary the cull was? It is quite important to establish that not only for our own safety but also for our standing in Europe.
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Winston, for that question. I remind the House that in our view the ban on the consumption of meat from animals over 30 months of age is essentially temporary. The advice from SEAC was that meat from such animals should merely be deboned. But we did not have the facilities to debone overnight all the meat from such animals. Therefore, given the concern among consumers, it seemed a logical response to ban temporarily all such meat from animal and human food chains.
In relation to the random or complete testing of the brains of animals, I shall write to the noble Lord because there is a fairly complex and technical explanation as to why the experts from SEAC see that as being a wasteful use of resources. One reason I remember for that is that the symptoms which can be detected within the brain appear only three weeks before the clinical symptoms are detectable in the rest of the beast. Therefore, the ratio of contamination within the brain which can be detected from such sampling would be minute. The experts believe that that would not give any significant indications. However, I shall write to the noble Lord because there is considerable detail attached to the subject.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, the Minister highlights the problem in the answer that he gave to my noble friend Lord Winston. He is saying that the vets say that deterioration in the brain can be identified only within three weeks of the conclusion of the disease. One of the difficulties in this whole process is that it is not until a very advanced stage of either BSE or CJD that the disease appears to be present. It is not until post-mortem examination that that can be confirmed.
The concern which my noble friend raised and which I too wish to mention is that surely we should use the culling and disposal programme to obtain information. We shall spend vast amounts of money on purchasing, slaughtering and disposing of animals. Surely it makes sense to spend a very small amount of money to make that examination to find out whether there are any traces of BSE in the animals that are slaughtered.
I wish to ask the Government whether they will make available facilities for the validation of tests being developed to try to determine whether BSE or CJD is present prior to post-mortem examination. That is one of the most crucial tests which needs to be devised. Again, the culling of large numbers of animals which may have BSE will provide a marvellous scientific opportunity to validate the tests. Will the Government make available those facilities?
The Earl of Lindsay
My Lords, the answer to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, is simple. We have millions of pounds devoted to research into CJD and BSE. It is for the experts to tell us how they wish to deploy those funds; on which sites they are best deployed; and whether live animals, animals culled through the cull programme or animals which have died 1697 for other reasons, are the best material with which to work. They are the experts on the subject and they have the discretion to inform us as to what they need in order to do their job properly.