HC Deb 16 October 1996 vol 282 cc931-4W
Mr. Austin Mitchell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations he has received from the French Government alleging that French cattle have contracted BSE from eating feedstuffs supplied from the United Kingdom; and what evidence he has evaluated on this matter. [35714]

Mrs. Browning

We have received no representations from the French Government about the possibility that French cattle have contracted BSE from eating feedstuffs supplied from the UK or containing UK-sourced raw materials.

Mammalian-derived meat and bonemeal could legitimately be used in feed for pigs and poultry up to 29 March 1996. It was in free circulation and could quite legitimately be exported to other member states for similar use. The UK informed the Commission and other member states of the measures it was taking to introduce a ruminant feed ban in July 1988 and the reasons for this. It was, however, for the Commission to introduce controls across the Community, and for other member states to introduce their own domestic regulations. The feeding of meat and bonemeal to bovines was prohibited in France from July 1990 and extended to include all ruminants in December 1994.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what assessment he has made of(a) how long the prions involved in BSE survive (i) in water, (ii) in soil and (iii) in stored meat and bonemeal and (b) their general stability or degradation characteristics. [34508]

Mrs. Browning

The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, which advises Government on all aspects of the spongiform encephalopathies, has reviewed all the environmental aspects and issued a statement following its meeting on 29 May. This was published under cover of a Ministry of Agriculture press notice of 7 June. A copy of that press notice is available in the Library of the House.

Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Wakefield of 19 June,Official Report, column 499, what research he has evaluated indicating how gelatin processed from bovine skin and bone is free from risk of contamination; and what account this research took of the resistance of the BSE agent to (a) heat and (b) caustic soda. [34779]

Mrs. Browning

[holding answer 1 July 1996]: Considerable research effort has gone into determining the extent to which various bovine tissues may harbour the BSE infective agent. No infectivity has ever been detected in bovine hides or bones, and the raw materials from which gelatin is made would not therefore be expected to be contaminated with BSE agent. Published research has examined the ability of various stages in the manufacture of gelatin to remove or inactivate the infective agent, in the unlikely event that any were present in the raw materials. The application of caustic substances and heat are only elements in the overall process, which must be examined as a whole in determining the likely reduction in infectivity which would result. All the available evidence, along with full details of the processes employed in producing gelatin and information provided on a confidential basis by the gelatin manufacturers of Europe, was considered by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee in arriving at its conclusions about the safety of gelatin.

Mr. Hardy

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what steps he will take to ensure that smaller beef producers are not made bankrupt by the present BSE eradication arrangements; and what assessment he has made of the extent to which beef producers are making a loss when steers are marketed. [38096]

Mr. Baldry

[holding answer 22 July 1996]: I am fully aware that current market prices for all beef cattle are substantially lower than those at the same time last year and am conscious of the enormous strain this has put on beef producers.

The Government agreed a package of addition support measures for beef producers at the June Agriculture Council worth some £110 million in the UK. Most of the money, some £81 million, is being paid as supplements under the beef premium schemes. A large proportion of the income of beef producers comes from suckler, cow premium, beef special premium and HLCA payments. Increases in these payments are therefore reducing the impact of lower cattle prices on producers incomes. Over 90 per cent. of claimants will have already received their supplements. The remainder will be paid by early October.

The Government have also arranged for beef producers to receive 80 per cent. rather than the normal 60 per cent. rate of advance payments under the beef premium schemes from 1 November. This should ensure additional funds are in the pockets of beef producers in the crucial autumn period.

In addition, some £29 million has been made available under the 1996 beef marketing payment scheme. This money is being distributed to beef producers according to the number of adult clean cattle—including steers, heifers and young bulls—sold in the period 20 March to 30 June (inclusive) for slaughter for human consumption. The application period for this scheme closed on 23 August and payment will be at a flat rate of £66.76 per eligible animal. The first payments under this scheme began earlier this month and it is hoped they will be completed by 15 October.

While the measures that I have outlined should relieve some of the financial pressures currently facing the beef industry, they are not designed as compensation for the fall in market prices. They are market support measures designed to ensure the survival of the industry. In the longer term, we would hope that as public confidence increases and the market adjusts to the situation, the incomes of beef producers will gradually recover.

Mr. Marlow

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what powers he has to prevent imports of beef from EU countries where he believes BSE is endemic and where the brain and spinal column are not removed from the carcase. [23998]

Mrs. Browning

[holding answer 2 April 1996]: Member states of the EU have power to take interim protective measures under article 9 of Council Directive 89/662/EEC pending the adoption of EU legislation where there is an outbreak of disease in the territory of another member state.

The United Kingdom has asked the Commission to adopt Community-wide controls on the removal of specified bovine offal from cattle carcases.

Mr. Heppell

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he took to inform abattoirs and renderers(a) in the United Kingdom and (b) in the EU of the decision to ban the use of thymus and intestines of calves under six months old. [35750]

Mrs. Browning

In the United Kingdom, the trade associations representing abattoir owners and renderers were consulted on the Government's decision to extend the specified bovine offal ban to include thymus and intestines of calves under six months of age. Renderers and abattoirs in other member states were not informed directly by the Ministry of the changes. The Commission was, however, notified of the Government's intention in accordance with EC directive 83/189 (as amended) laying down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards and regulations.

Sir Michael Spicer

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to assist farmers who are caught by the BSE culling backlog with the cost of winter feed; and if he will make a statement. [40813]

Mrs. Browning

A number of representations have been received about the introduction of a feed subsidy for cattle awaiting slaughter under the over 30-month scheme, which are being studied.

Mr. Martyn Jones

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what estimate he has made of the level of under-reporting of cases of BSE in those countries which export cattle to the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. [40128]

Mrs. Browning

BSE is a notifiable disease in all member states.

Apart from the UK, BSE has been confirmed in homebred cattle in France, Portugal, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland. Since 1986, the UK has imported cattle from three of these countries: France, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland. We have no evidence that under-reporting of BSE cases occurs in these countries.