HL Deb 26 February 1958 vol 207 cc1017-8WA

asked Her Majesty's Government whether foot and mouth disease among farm animals in Great Britain is now more seriously prevalent than for the last two decades and whether in their view it is traceable preponderantly to chilled meat carcases imported from Argentina; what is the current amount and value of such imported meat and what proportion does it represent of Britain's total meat supplies; whether there is at present strict observance of the precautions against disease transference stipulated for in situ by the Bledisloe Agreement of twenty years ago and, if not, whether equivalent meat supplies of comparable quality cannot with advantage be raised at home or obtained from New Zealand, Australia or some other part of the British Commonwealth, as recently suggested by the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the National Farmers' Union and the Fat Stock Marketing Corporation.


The incidence of foot and mouth disease varies so greatly from year to year that it is difficult, and may be misleading, to draw very positive conclusions as to its greater or lesser prevalence in one period as compared with another. Over the last two decades the total number of outbreaks in a year was greatest in 1942 and 1952. The total number of outbreaks in 1957 which was 184 was comparable to the position in. 1938 when the total number was 190. Over the whole period, as the Departmental Committee found in 1954, infection has been carried from the Continent of Europe and from South America. Our veterinary officers have attributed rather more than half the primary outbreaks since 1938 to infection from imported meat.

The Committee were satisfied that the provisions of the Bledisloe Agreement were being observed in the Argentine with the exception that, owing to the comparatively small number of veterinary officers employed and the long distances to be travelled, veterinary inspection is not always made at the farm of origin but a declaration by the farmer is accepted instead. During 1957, 342,000 tons of meat were imported from the Argentine valued at just under £51 million and representing about 15 per cent. of our total meat supplies. We are at present importing all the beef, mutton and lamb Australia and New Zealand choose to send us and it would not be possible to replace supplies from the Argentine—particularly of chilled beef—in the near future either from home production or any other sources free from foot and mouth disease.

House adjourned at seven minutes before eight o'clock.