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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): On 11 July 2005, suspicions were raised about the possibility of Newcastle Disease being present in pheasants on an estate in Surrey. We acted immediately on suspicion of disease following the control measures set out in Defra's exotic animal disease generic contingency plan. The suspect premises were immediately placed under restriction while the state veterinary service started their investigation.
Initial investigations identified two possible sources of the infection. Among the 12,000 pheasants on the suspect premises were a number of birds imported from France during the previous month and so it was possible that they had first become infected there. The second possibility was that the pheasants had been infected once they had arrived in England from contact with wild birds. It is known that wild birds can carry the virus responsible for Newcastle Disease.
The UK contacted the French authorities who immediately began a thorough investigation. There has been excellent co-operation between authorities in the two countries. There was a rapid exchange of information concerning the movement of birds between France and the infected premise in England. The French authorities identified a number of farms that had supplied birds to the infected farm. They undertook active surveillance and sampling which has now allowed them to conclude by blood sampling that birds on one farm have been exposed to the Newcastle Disease virus in the Loire Atlantique. Although virus isolation results are not yet available, culling of 20,000 pheasants and 35,000 partridges will commence on that farm today, ahead of final confirmation. The farm has been placed under restrictions and all movements off have been stopped.
Disease on the premises in Surrey was confirmed on 15 July and an order was given for the pheasants on the infected premises to be killed. The first birds on the infected premise were humanely culled on Monday morning and by 5 pm on Monday, 2,700 birds had been killed. Depopulation is continuing and we will ensure that as many of the birds as possible are killed. The culled birds are incinerated in a commercial animal incinerator. None of the affected birds will enter the human food chain.
Also on 15 July, a Declaratory Order was signed, putting in place a Protection Zone around the Infected Premise and a Surveillance Zone. A census of all poultry premises has been undertaken and patrol visits started in the Protection and Surveillance Zone. Samples have been taken from premises adjacent to the Infected Premise which could be epidemiologically linked. Clinical examinations of the larger poultry premises have started in the Surveillance Zone with no clinical evidence of Newcastle Disease being apparent.
The EU Commission were informed immediately disease was confirmed and we continue to keep in close touch about the control measures we have put in place. The EU Commission is satisfied with the measures we have taken so far.
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We immediately put in place measures to ensure exports, both to EU member states and non EU countries of birds and hatching eggs do not originate from within the Infected Area. Intra-Community trade in birds and hatching eggs takes place on the basis of EU export health certificates which give area freedom from Newcastle Disease. Trade in birds and other susceptible commodities which originate from outside the restricted area can continue. Export health certificates to non EU destinations are required for most commodities relating to birds, including hatching eggs, poultrymeat, poultry products, table eggs, ready meals etc. The conditions for export depends on that country's import requirements. Exports to non-EU countries can take place provided the importing country has not imposed a total ban on imports of poultry and poultry meat or requires the UK to be free of the disease.
Our advice to poultry keepers is to put in place strong biosecurity arrangements, keep an eye open for disease and to consider, in consultation with their veterinarians, whether vaccination would be appropriate. Some large-scale poultry producers already routinely vaccinate their flocks against Newcastle Disease. The Secretary of State may order vaccination of poultry if she thinks it is an appropriate and proportionate response to the disease outbreak.
The Health Protection Agency has confirmed that Newcastle Disease virus does not pose a significant threat to human health even when people handle birds known to be infected. Close contact is required for transmission to man. The virus is spread via aerosols from infected birds which can occasionally cause conjunctivitis, fever and flu like symptoms. The symptoms only last a few days and there are no long term effects on health. There is no risk of human infection from consuming poultry meat.
Industry and other stakeholders, including game shooting bodies, have been kept informed of the suspicion and confirmation of disease and their views have been sought. Industry supports the action taken as they wish the outbreak to be eradicated as quickly as possible.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I chaired the Council for the agriculture items on the agenda. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) represented the United Kingdom and chaired the Council for the fisheries item. Also in attendance was my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Knight).
I began the Council by presenting the UK presidency work programme for the next six months. It includes amongst other things, sugar reform, the EU's Rural Development Strategic Guidelines, Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT), Avian Influenza, Welfare of Broiler Chickens and a range of proposals to progress the sustainability of the fisheries industry.
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The Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection took the opportunity to announce adoption of a TSE Roadmap setting out the Community's BSE Strategy for the short, medium and long term, and signalled his intention to publish an Action Plan on Animal Welfare towards the end of the year.
At the request of France, Council discussed the measures introduced by the Commission on 1 July to protect the Bay of Biscay anchovy stock. The Commission was not prepared to relax its ban on fishing at this stage but said it would keep the situation under constant review.
The Agriculture Commissioner presented her proposal for EU Strategic Guidelines for Rural Development, hoping for political agreement on this proposal in October. The guidelines aimed to ensure that rural development programmes contributed to the Lisbon and Gothenburg objectives of jobs, growth and sustainability. Once the EU Guidelines had been agreed, they would be the basis for drawing up national strategies through a process of dialogue between Member States and the Commission.
Over lunch the Agriculture Commissioner provided the Council with an update from last week's WTO mini-ministerial meeting under the Doha Development Agenda negotiations. There had been no major developments but she noted that its existing mandate had allowed the Commission to engage constructively in the discussion and to maintain pressure on other trading partners.
The Council held its first discussion on Commission proposals to reform the EU sugar regime. There was broad support for a restructuring scheme instead of production quota cuts, and for a 10-year time horizon, but some member states argued that the proposed price cuts went too far and too fast, that compensation should be higher, and that the "Everything But Arms" import arrangements should be reviewed.
Under Any Other Business, Italy called for the Commission to open crisis distillation measures before the end of July to deal with the critical situation on its wine market. The Commission replied that they needed time to analyse the situation, but would do so as quickly as possible.
The Netherlands expressed concern about the clarity of Community marketing standards for poultry meat. In particular, they were concerned that poultry meat that had been frozen should not be labelled as fresh. They also called for the introduction of a label for poultry meat originating from EU. The Commission agreed that marketing defrosted poultry meat as fresh was not in conformity with EU standards. The Commission would reflect thoroughly on both questions.
In light of an intervention by the Danish Minister, a proposal for a Council Decision providing for derogations from the Restrictions on Hazardous Substances Regulation for lead and for the flame retardant, Deca BDE, in electrical and electronic equipment, which had come forward for formal
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adoption from the Environment Council, was referred back to the Committee of Permanent Representatives for further discussion.
In closing the Council I noted that the informal Agriculture Council would be a joint event with the Environment Council taking place in London from 1012 September. The next Agriculture and Fisheries Council would be on 19 and 20 September.
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