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Tony Cunningham: It has been announced that one of the three inquiries will take place shortly, but that will take six months. The great fear among farmers in Cumbria and all the tourism-related industries is that, if there were an outbreak of foot and mouth next February or March, it would decimate agriculture in Cumbria and destroy many of the tourism industries in that county. I support a broad range of measures that can be used to ensure that we do not get ourselves into the position that we faced with the original outbreak of the disease.
Mr. Simpson: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but this is pure Corporal Jonespeople cry, "Don't panic," but that is exactly what the Government are doing. I have long experience of defence matters, and however appalling the Ministry of Defence has been at times, the one thing that it has learned from experience is that lessons have to be learned very quickly. In fact, the Minister wants a shotgun version of legislation to cover all kinds of contingencies because, frankly, neither first MAFF, nor now DEFRA knows what went on and has got the answers.
The majority opinion on both sides of the Chamber is that a short, sharp inquiry could have been held and that the organisational and logistical lessons could have been learned very much in accordance with the standard operating procedures that the MOD applied in Cumbria.
I hope that we have established that the Minister accepts the 48-hour target in principle. He is less sure in his rejection of the fact that we would like that target to be included in the Bill. My hon. Friends and I will not press the new clause to a Division, but I suspect that the issue may be taken up in another place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
'In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 8
'In the 1981 Act the following section is inserted after section 8
David Taylor: Parts of the Bill deal with the control of foot and mouth disease when an outbreak is under way, and other parts deal with minimising the risk of such outbreaks occurring in future. We are not certain how foot and mouth disease got into Britain, but it is widely accepted that its rapid and extensive spread was due to at least two factors.
The first factor was multiple movements, especially of sheep. Animals were transported in and out of markets and other premises several times in quick succession by dealers who tried to turn a quick profit by, for example, buying animals at one market and selling them at another a few days later.
The second aspect was the fact that animals travelled long distances to slaughter, which has become more common in the past few years. Long journeys to slaughter and multiple journeys in and out of markets risk spreading infectious animal diseases, and lead to poor welfarethe two are clearly connected. Long journeys are more stressful than short ones, and multiple journeys involve repeated loadings and unloadings, with animals frequently being mixed with unfamiliar animals. Both those consequences are regularly identified as major stresses for animals.
New clause 9 aims to tackle one of those problems by imposing a maximum limit of eight hours on the time it takes to transport animals to slaughter. The tendency for animals to be taken on much longer journeys to slaughter is greater than it was a few years ago, and it has arisen for a number of reasons. The first is the closure of many local abattoirs. In England, almost two thirds have closed in recent years, leaving us with about 300. Secondly, farmers and dealers drive animals past nearby abattoirs and take them to much more distant ones.
A maximum time limit of eight hours, as envisaged in new clause 9, would halt the worst of the long journeys. Indeed, I believe that the journeys should be much shorter than eight hours; animals should be slaughtered as near as possible to the farm on which they were reared. Eight hours, however, is the shortest limit that the European Union allows member states to impose on slaughter journeys. The relevant EU provision authorises member states
The maximum eight-hour limit is in line with the EU directive and it would have more effect in preventing the causes of an epidemic and would not allow the previous culture to continue of getting the cheapest price for slaughter no matter the distance involved in getting the cattle, pigs, sheep or whatever to slaughter.
I draw a specific example to the attention of the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir). In September this year, several consignments of sheep were transported by sea from the Scottish islands to the west coast port of Oban. From there, they were taken by road all the way to Birmingham, not far from where I live, for slaughter. In the interests of animal welfare and health, those animals could and should have been slaughtered at an abattoir on the Scottish mainland. They should not have been brought on a very long journey to the midlands of England. Surely, such journeys cannot be allowed to continue for very much longer.
In the long term, the eight-hour limit that the new clause would introduce should be reduced further still. Of course, there is commercial anxiety in the farming community, which has endured one of its worst periods in decades, and the imposition of any new limit should not be economically damaging. Central Government could provide encouragement by giving short-term financial support, beginning, perhaps, with small, local abattoirs.
The EU directive, which is incorporated in UK law, is weak in several respects, and the new clause aims to strengthen it. For example, the directive allows calves in so-called higher standard vehicles to travel for a total of 18 hours with a one-hour stop mid-journey to give them water and, if necessary, feed. In its 1992 report on the transport of farm animals and pets, the European Commission's Scientific Veterinary Committee recommended that calves should travel for no more than eight hours before a break, which should last for at least three hours to allow them to drink to repletion.
Similarly, the RSPCA is very concerned about the provisions of the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order 1997, which implements the EU directive, because it fails adequately to safeguard the welfare of transported animals. With poor welfare come stress, a predisposition towards infection and all the animal health problems that the Bill will tackle. The EU directive and the 1997 order need strengthening if animal welfare problems are to be avoided, and we need to press for a review of them. Many organisations have pressed for a review and highlighted the points that particularly need to be addressed.
There are unsatisfactory and inadequate practices in existing abattoirs that receive animals that have been transported on long journeys. Indeed, their practices generate those long journeys because they will only take animals of a certain age and species, and therefore of a certain market value. That unnecessarily increases pressure on the UK's shrinking network of abattoirs, to which I have referred, and can only serve to push up average journey times to slaughter even further.
We need licensing. We want to maximise journey times, but if we cannot monitor those journeys, the provision will be a dead letter on the statute book. We need to license all individuals involved in the transportation of live animals, and that should be a legal requirement. Transportation is an intrinsically stressful experience for farmed livestock. They are exposed to unfamiliar experiences, environments and animals, and can suffer physical discomfort and/or injury, as well as mental distress. The duration of the journey, the conditions on board, the handling during loading and unloading, the frequency of travel and the provision of water and feed can all have a stressful impact on animals, and the licensing of individuals involved in transportation will help us to monitor the implementation of the new clause.
Perhaps we can encourage improvement by fiscal means. Perhaps the subsidy received under the common agricultural policy should be dependent on observance at particular farms of agreed animal welfare standards, including limits on journey-to-slaughter times. Linked to that would be more detailed recording of individual farm animals, which would assist in tracing their journey to slaughter in the event of another outbreak of a farm animal disease such as foot and mouth. Farm animal welfare concerns such as a limit on journey-to-slaughter times should in any case be included in the so-called non-trade concerns of the World Trade Organisation. That would lead to negotiations on a global platform to raise the profile and legitimacy of these concerns.
New clause 10 provides that, once an animal has been brought to market, it cannot be brought back to that market or taken to another one for 20 days. That would make an important contribution to stopping animals being taken in and out of markets in quick succession and would prevent the mass exposure of vulnerable animals. At the outset of the foot and mouth crisis, it became clear that many sheep were moved in quick succession in and out of markets and other premises as dealers tried to make small, rapid profits on them. For example, a dealer might buy animals at one market then, a few days later, sell them at another market hoping to make a small mark-up. Dealers make no contribution to farming in my estimation; they do not involve the animals in a genuine farming operation and simply trade them as commodities.
Multiple journeys played a major role in the rapid spread of foot and mouth and led to poor welfare, as animals were subject to frequent loading and unloading, mixed with unfamiliar animals and encountered other highly stressful circumstances. Such journeys have to be stopped as they can lead to serious problems and are not a necessary part of farming. New clause 10 would end the practice of animals being moved in and out of markets in quick succession and would not allow them to be brought to the original market or any other market in a 20-day period.
The provision would tackle a problem recognised on both sides of the House, and by all parts of the farming community, veterinary practitioners and others. It would prevent a current practice in British farming that accelerated the rapid spread of the disease earlier this year. In many cases, multiple journeys prevented the successful tracing of the origins of the disease. The number of times that animals were transported between markets, often in a single day, resulted in mass exposure to other fatigued and traumatised animals. The 20-day moratorium on market-to-market journeys provides sufficient time for a disease such as foot and mouth to show up in infected animals. Not only would it allow infected flocks and herds to be isolated, but it would allow local conditions to be assessed for compatibility with the spread of the disease, thus reducing the possibility of an indiscriminate cull, frequently referred to not only by Opposition Members but by Government Members, in a designated area.
Animal licences should be reviewed and revised to include the number of journeys that animals have undertaken in their life. Vulnerability and possible exposure to disease can then be assessed in the event of the outbreak of a farm animal disease such as foot and mouth. A reduction in the number of journeys between markets would result in long-term savings for farmers and a reintroduction of the abattoir in the local economy. Multiple journeys were born out of the drive to maximise profit per animal with such intensity and frequency that the inherent short-termism of that behaviour inevitably led to problemsand what a massive problem it eventually led to.
Reducing the frequency of journeys would make farm animals healthier, and indeed create a more viable acceptable and higher-value product. Members in the Chamber today and members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee who have come into contact with farmers and others agree that farm animal welfare is high on their list of priorities. The provision would allow them to make more concessions to farm animal welfare, such as space for animals when being transported, regular watering stops and standardised qualifications for those loading and unloading animals.
I regularly meet farmers in my constituencyI had a delegation from the National Farmers Union at my last advice session on Saturday. Although, fortunately, we in the midlands were largely unaffected by the disease, the farmers note that the Government did not introduce an immediate ban on all animal movements once the first case had been discovered in the abattoir in Essex. Had a 20-day moratorium on market-to-market journeys been in place, that infected animal would have been identified before it got to the abattoir, which would have reduced the exposure of other animals to foot and mouth disease.
A 20-day moratorium would restore some sanity and community considerations to a market that has been voracious in its consumption of animals for profit. It would also be vital insurance against another epidemic, and would buy the Government of the daywe hope that that would be decades away and that Labour would still be in powersome diagnostic breathing space, which was unavailable earlier this year. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Minister an encouraging response to both new clauses.