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Mr. Garnier: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way because I know that time is short and it is highly unlikely that I will be able to take part in the debate. I should just like to correct my hon. Friend, because if he visited Leicestershire, particularly the Welland valley in high Leicestershire in my constituency, he would find some of best beef fattening country in the land. There is plenty of good English beef to be found not too far from my hon. Friend's constituency, just across the border in my part of the world.

Mr. Davies: That is the tragedy because there are farmers who still specialise in producing the pedigree beef herds, which produce some extremely good beef. My hon. and learned Friend has just re-emphasised my point, however, because it is extraordinarily difficult for the consumer to find that beef. I am well aware that the beef buyer for the Savoy hotel group will know where to buy his beef. I am well aware that there are one or two specialised butchers who make a point of having access to specialised beef herds. It is also true, however, that for the ordinary consumer it is not possible to find such beef.

I recommend that my hon. and learned Friend should go to a butcher or supermarket in his constituency and ask the salesman, "What breed is that beef? What age is it?", let alone, "When was it slaughtered?". In many cases, he will not even get an answer to that question. Far too much meat in this country is sold by people who do not know what they are selling and bought by people who do not know what they are buying.

The butcher or the supermarket manager rings somebody up on a Monday morning and says, "Send me a tonne of beef", and the stuff arrives on the back of a refrigerated truck, it is red and it comes from some kind of bovine animal. Frankly, that is about all they know about that meat and all they expect their customers to know about it.

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That is an unsatisfactory state of affairs because a market should have proper information channels. Customers should be sufficiently demanding, should know what they are buying and have an opportunity to choose between different qualities of the product. Above all, unless the producers get some credit when they can improve the quality of their products, so that when they specialise in a beef herd, they can be certain that they will get the premium price for it, which in turn means that people know what they are buying and will pay that price, the quality of the product will deteriorate. That, sadly, is our problem.

Mr. Welsh: On a point of information, the hon. Gentleman's comments about beef and dairy herds apply far more to England, because if he wants specialist beef herds he will find them in Scotland--30 per cent. of our industry is pure beef compared with 10 per cent. in England. If the customer wants to buy high quality beef, Aberdeen Angus is only one of many excellent Scottish beef breeds.

Mr. Davies: I am well aware of the virtues of Aberdeen Angus, but it is extremely difficult to find that pure Aberdeen Angus in this country. I am told that some British butchers find that it is unfashionable because the genuine article has a slightly fatty grain in it. The fact remains that if one buys beef in Britain, the chances are that, at best, one will get a cross-bred animal. It is a by-product of the dairy industry because to get cows to lactate, one has to get them pregnant. They therefore produce calves. Those are sold on to someone who fattens them up, and then often slaughters them much too young. That beef is then often sold without being hung properly. At several different stages, the way the market works guarantees that the quality will deteriorate.

The fact is that if people are unlucky, they will just get a piece of redundant dairy cow. In most outlets it will be difficult to distinguish between the breeds. That is important because of its implications for the quality of beef in this country, which has declined--there is no question about that. If one goes to America and one orders a steak, one gets a piece of pure beef animal, such as a Texas Longhorn. In France, one can buy guaranteed pure Charolais or Limousin. In fact, France operates a system of appellation controlee for meat, as it does for wine, and a butcher can go to gaol if he pretends that meat is a bit of Charolais when it is a bit of a dairy cow. If one goes to Latin America, one can eat the most delicious pure beef in the world, which has had nothing to do with the dairy industry.

Sadly, that is not the case in Britain. We have to face up to that fact, which, unfortunately, plays a role in the BSE problem because no one in his right mind would feed pure pedigree beef herds on high-protein compound feeds. In most cases, there is no question of such herds having been fed on offal-based feedstuffs. They will have been grazed or fed on cereals. If it had been possible to distinguish clearly in Britain between what I would call genuine beef and the by-products of the dairy industry, a large sector of the market--perhaps especially in Northern Ireland and Scotland--would have been protected ab initio from the blight that now affects the whole industry. There are lessons--and British lessons--to be learned. We should have the courage to face them.

The second general proposition that one would assume to be axiomatic from reading much of the national daily press is that the European Union took the initiative in

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banning British beef. If one asked people on the street how the problem arose, many would say that the EU aggressively banned British beef. Many people think that it was banned because the French or the Germans like being nasty to us. Once again, that is the exact reverse of the truth.

The European Union was not the first body to ban British beef; it was the last. We have heard that some 61 countries had banned it before the European Union, many of them many years ago, including countries with which we have always had good relations such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. They banned it five or six years ago when BSE first arose in Britain. If one thinks that it is sensible to retaliate by launching a trade war against the countries impudent enough to ban British beef, logically we should have had one with the United States for several years and we should now be having them with many other countries such as China and Russia.

Several of our European partners would have been tempted to follow those countries' lead in banning British beef some years ago--the Germans certainly wanted to--but they were prevented by European Union rules. Far from the EU having exacerbated or initiated the problem, the reverse is the case. For several years, we continued to be able to export freely to European Union countries. We would not have been able to do that had we not been a member of the EU.

The third proposition is that our membership of the European Union makes the problem more difficult to resolve or more onerous. Again, that is the exact reverse of the truth. It is a great advantage to be in the EU because it has a set procedure to address and resolve the problem. There are various protections in the treaties and, in particular, we can turn to the European Court of Justice if our partners do not seem to be acting in good faith. Those procedures have been launched and are in progress. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister said earlier, the Commission, the veterinary committee and so forth are being helpful. When those procedures reach a conclusion, the ban will automatically be lifted throughout the EU. That problem will then be resolved, but persuading the other 61 countries to lift the ban will take much longer. Who knows how easy that will be? The problem can be more easily resolved within the EU than it could conceivably have been outside it.

Finally, financial support will be available. We must be grateful for that at least. It will contribute towards the cost of the very necessary subsidies to farmers and to the industry. We must recognise the irony that although beef production and sales have fallen faster in other European countries than in Britain--and so the commercial damage to their producers may have been greater than in Britain--they will receive no subsidy because they have no slaughter programme because they do not have BSE. We will get subsidies at the expense of people who have been harder hit and despite the fact that they may feel that they are less responsible than we are for the origin of the crisis.

We have here a thicket of illusions and sheer lies, systematically purveyed across the country, which have made it extremely difficult for the British people to see the effects clearly and to plan ahead.

I do not want to sit down without making some positive suggestions as to how we go forward from here. First, we must restore consumer confidence. There is no point in

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simply lifting formal bans unless consumers will buy. We must persuade the consumer that BSE is out of the food chain.

I still have some problems with the idea of culling animals aged more than 30 months. Because the symptoms do not arise until some time after the age of 30 months, if one did that there would be a lower incidence of symptoms arising and established cases of BSE. But the proportion of animals in a herd which carry the BSE agent might not be reduced.

To do that, one needs to identify those animals that could have been fed contaminated feed, or, more practically, to identify those herds that could not have been fed such feed. If we could do that, I hope that we could make progress by exempting from the ban beef herds that have been reared organically or entirely grazed, perhaps on the basis of herds--or perhaps, as has been suggested this evening, we might be able to certify that animals in whole areas of the country were free of any disease. That would be a useful way forward.

Secondly, I urge on my hon. Friend--I have already done so in writing--that we introduce a proper certification system in Britain. That is badly needed. In retrospect, it is a pity that we did not have it before, but I hope we can introduce it as soon as possible. I believe the Government intend to do so in June, and I greatly welcome that.

Thirdly, I hope that some good will in the end come out of all this evil. I hope that in future we will have a better informed market and a better segmented market; that customers will be conscious of the need to distinguish between different types of beef and more conscious of the difference between beef that is genuinely raised as such and beef that is the by-product of the dairy industry; that they will once again demand that their butchers know what they are buying; that they will once again give some credit to those butchers who take the trouble to buy their animals on the hoof directly from farms or in market, slaughter them themselves and can tell them where they come from, what breed they were and when they were slaughtered; and that they will once again be prepared to give some premium to those farmers who are prepared to take the trouble to raise genuine British beef. If that were so, we may find that out of this nightmare we can re-establish the international reputation for the quality of British beef which has been so sadly eroded in recent times.


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