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19 Feb 2007 : Column 171W—continued

Local authorities regularly participate in animal disease contingency exercises led by the SVS, and
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LACORS provides guidance on its website including a local authority contingency plan template as well as extensive guidance on responsibilities during an outbreak.

In addition, a range of guidance on preventative measures has been made available to local authorities, from DEFRA, including guidance on the national poultry register, biosecurity, bird gatherings and other relevant guidance.

These relationships have worked extremely well since the confirmed case of H5N1 near Lowestoft in Suffolk, and have ensured that local authorities’ needs are recognised at national level.

Mr. Jamie Reed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what recent discussions his Department has had with (a) the EU and (b) relevant Government Departments in non-EU countries on the H5N1 virus. [119956]

Mr. Bradshaw: DEFRA routinely liaises closely with the European Commission and other member states through meetings of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) and the Chief Veterinary Officers’ Working Group. Officials also communicate regularly through facsimiles, e-mails and telephone conversations.

At a meeting of SCoFCAH on 6 February, the Commission supported the timely action that DEFRA has taken in relation to the recent outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza in Suffolk. SCoFCAH also enabled the export of poultry and poultry products from outside the restricted zone to other member states to continue as normal.

DEFRA is liaising closely with third world countries and is keeping them informed of the current situation. In addition, my Department has also provided all countries with details of the recent outbreak through the OIE (International Animal Health Organisation) notification system and the Animal Disease Notification System (ADNS).

Mr. Jamie Reed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what systems are in place to screen relevant products imported into the UK for the H5N1 virus. [119957]

Mr. Bradshaw: The UK does not accept uncooked meat or live birds from areas where H5N1 has been reported.

We do not routinely screen all products imported into the UK for any disease. In the case of H5N1, it would not be practicable or proportionate to do so.

Veterinary checks are carried out on imported animals and animal products from approved establishments in approved countries outside the EU, to ensure that they meet the strict EU veterinary import conditions and do not pose a risk to public or animal health. All consignments are subject to documentary and identity checks. At least 50 per cent. of poultry meat consignments undergo physical checks, as do all consignments of live birds. These must come with an official health certificate guaranteeing compliance with EU rules and freedom from disease.

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The State Veterinary Service carries out checks of live animals at Border Inspection Points (BIP). Checks on meat products are carried out by local authorities. Consignments which do not comply with EU import conditions are either re-exported outside the EU or destroyed.

If there is an outbreak of disease likely to present a risk to human or animal health, EU legislation permits us to take appropriate safeguard action, which may include a ban on imports of meat from all, or parts, of an affected country. Should such an outbreak occur within another EU member state, EU law compels the authorities to introduce measures to protect animal health including movement bans and protection and surveillance zones.

In addition, all frontline HMRC detection staff include products of animal origin (POAO) as part of their anti-smuggling responsibilities. Within these resources there are also dedicated teams deployed (currently totalling around 100 officers) with prime responsibility for detecting illegal POAO imports. HMRC controls are carried out on the basis of risk assessments and other intelligence, so that the routes considered to pose the greatest disease risk are targeted . HMRC’s activities are supported by the use of detector dogs and baggage X-ray scanning equipment.

Mr. Jamie Reed: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment his Department has made of those areas most at risk from the H5N1 virus spreading from Suffolk. [119960]

Mr. Bradshaw: As part of our investigation into this outbreak we have been assessing the risk of onward spread of disease.

Movements of anything that may have spread disease onto or away from the infected premises (IP) have been traced to identify ‘at risk’ premises. An investigation is carried out on these premises to establish whether disease is present.

Within the surveillance zone (SZ) and protection zone (PZ) we have been assessing whether there has been any spread of disease to other poultry premises. This surveillance started within the PZ initially and is now moving out into the SZ (as risk reduces with distance from the IP). Poultry are undergoing clinical surveillances and waterfowl are being sampled for laboratory screening.

Our investigations have not yet revealed any evidence of spread from the IP to other domestic flocks.

Elsewhere in the country, we will continue to pursue our existing wild bird surveillance programme on live and dead wild birds which is targeted to those areas likely to be at greatest risk, including the restriction zone in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) how many and what proportion of workers in the poultry industry have been vaccinated against avian influenza; [120503]

(2) how many and what percentage of people in the United Kingdom could be vaccinated against avian influenza with the stock his Department holds. [120504]

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Mr. Bradshaw: DEFRA does not hold information on human vaccination. This is a matter for the Department of Health.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what measures his Department is taking to avoid a ban on UK poultry exports. [120505]

Mr. Bradshaw: DEFRA a is liaising closely with interested parties to identify key export markets for poultry. We work closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and UK Trade and Investment overseas posts to try to keep export markets open by providing information and reassurance about the avian influenza situation in the UK. Where necessary, DEFRA negotiates with the veterinary authorities of importing countries to get import bans lifted and/or to agree revised export health certification.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what information his Department is providing to the public on the avian influenza outbreak; [120506]

(2) what advice he plans to provide to people within a future quarantine danger zone in the event of an outbreak of avian influenza. [120507]

Mr. Bradshaw: DEFRA has conducted a range of communications activities for poultry keepers, industry personnel, vets, local residents and the general public. Some messages have been targeted within the protection and surveillance zones, but others have been sent to poultry keepers across Britain.

Messages have kept recipients up-to-date with the latest developments and have given information on human health, biosecurity, movement restrictions, pets, wild birds surveillance, eating poultry and countryside access. Methods of communication have included conferences, teleconferences, text messages, press notices, information packs (door drops), emails and letters (including a mailout to all Suffolk residents).

In addition, the latest information is available from the DEFRA website and the DEFRA Helpline.

My Department keeps its emergency communications strategy under review.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps his Department is taking to ensure that future incidents of avian influenza are reported immediately. [120515]

Mr. Bradshaw: The law on this is clear. A notifiable disease (such as avian influenza) is a disease named in section 88 of the Animal Health Act 1981 or an order made under that Act. Section 15(1) of the Act says that:

In practice, if someone suspects signs of a notifiable disease, they must immediately notify a DEFRA Divisional Veterinary Manager.

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Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps his Department is taking to ensure avian influenza does not spread via employees working on poultry farms. [120517]

Mr. Bradshaw: DEFRA has issued extensive guidance to bird keepers on biosecurity measures. The guidance, available on the DEFRA website, applies to everyone who enters a farm or premises with farm animals, or enters land used for grazing or keeping farm animals.

It deals with the precautions to be taken when entering or leaving any premises with farm animals:

The guidance applies generally to all premises with farm animals and to all exotic diseases. When followed, it should help reduce the spread of animal diseases to other premises with farm animals. It is not intended to interfere with sensible public access to land and enjoyment of the countryside.

Information and guidance on avoiding risk of zoonotic infections when working with poultry that is suspected of having highly pathogenic avian influenza has been produced by DEFRA and industry through the Government and industry working group. It is available on the Health and Safety Executive and DEFRA websites. This information and guidance is being followed in the current outbreak.

In addition, my Department is working in conjunction with the Health Protection Unit who are fully engaged with human health risk assessments for State Veterinary Service staff, farm workers and those involved in the control operation. As a precautionary measure, those involved in the control of the avian influenza outbreak in Suffolk have been offered the appropriate preventive treatment with antiviral drugs (oseltamivir), seasonal flu vaccine and avian influenza personnel protective equipment in line with established protocols.

DEFRA is assisting the Department of Health in offering free flu vaccination during this winter's flu season to those who work in close contact with poultry as a precautionary public health measure. Immunising poultry workers with seasonal flu vaccine to prevent the potential re-assortment of a bird flu virus was one of the public health measures set out in the UK Influenza Pandemic Contingency Plan.

Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps his Department is taking to ensure avian influenza does not spread via migratory birds. [120518]

Mr. Bradshaw: Targeted surveillance for high pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza and other avian influenza viruses in wild birds is in place throughout the UK and is ongoing. The targeted surveillance focuses on species of wild birds that experts believe to have a greater potential role in the spread of avian influenza viruses. There is a comprehensive list which generally includes ducks, geese, swans, gulls and waders. Sampling is targeted to high priority
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surveillance areas; these have been chosen on the basis of abundance of migratory waterbird species and domestic poultry. Members of the public can report dead swans, ducks, geese, waders and gulls by calling the DEFRA Helpline 08459 33 55 77.

Within the area around the infected premises in Suffolk, there will be enhanced levels of surveillance of wild birds. We are aware of 30 key waterbird locations in Suffolk (such as estuaries and marshes). 12 of these locations are within 20 kilometres of the infected premises of which 10 are patrolled regularly as part of the programme. Within the protection, surveillance and restricted zones we are requiring keepers to house their birds or otherwise separate them from contact with wild birds.

DEFRA has also issued extensive guidance to bird keepers on biosecurity measures to protect their birds from avian influenza, which is available on the DEFRA website. It is crucial that keepers follow these measures.

Bill Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many vehicles were used during the Suffolk H5N1 outbreak to transfer culled birds to be incinerated; and what vehicle types were used. [120585]

Mr. Bradshaw: A total of 25 vehicles were used to transport culled birds from Suffolk to the rendering plant in Staffordshire. The trailers used were specialist, purpose built bulkers designed to transport animal by-products.


Chris Huhne: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what steps are being taken to ensure that there is (a) sufficient water available at Pashford Poors, Suffolk and (b) high water quality at the Lewes Levels, East Sussex to ensure the survival of the (i) Pashford pot beetle and (ii) Sussex diving beetle; [118688]

(2) whether the habitat quality at the locations last known to be inhabited by the Pashford pot beetle and the Sussex diving beetle remains sufficient to ensure the survival of the two species. [118689]

Barry Gardiner: Little is known of the Pashford pot beetle, other than that it is associated with wetlands. During the last century it was recorded from various sites in the Norfolk Broads and Lincolnshire fens but, since 1910, it has been known from only a single site, Pashford Poors Fen in Suffolk. It has not been seen since 1986.

Pashford Poors Fen is probably not an ideal location for this species, as it comprises a series of small wetlands in a matrix of dry Breckland grassland. The area has not been subject to the extensive sallow scrub invasion that the beetle needs, and may be too small to support a thriving population.

A study in 2006 found that, in Britain, the Sussex diving beetle, Laccophilus poecilus (also called the Puzzled Skipper), has mainly been associated with grazing fen in richly vegetated ditch margins. However, this species can also occupy a wide range of stagnant
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habitats. Occasional captures of specimens in Yorkshire suggest that there is as yet an undiscovered colony.

The RSPB has recently acquired a large area of land at Lewes Levels, which includes the last known recorded locality for this species. Over a year ago a site visit was undertaken by representatives from the RSPB, Natural England and the Aquatic Coleoptera Conservation Trust to determine what site management could be carried out for the species. The issue of water quality was also raised. It was considered that the construction of on-site water bodies (ponds) that were not linked to the main water system of ditches (and hence isolated from eutrophication) would be beneficial.

Circumstance permitting, it is expected that the RSPB will undertake work to create suitable ponds in the near future.

Overall, however, the primary conservation goal is to establish the Sussex diving beetle's exact status and locality. This will help to inform decisions about the most suitable steps to be taken to conserve this species.


Mr. Newmark: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment he has made of the impact of climate change on regions classified as biodiversity hotspots. [120526]

Barry Gardiner: The issue has been considered in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and a number of other recent scientific papers. We look forward to the publication, later this year, of the Working Group II contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report which will include assessment of impacts on biodiversity.


Mr. Hollobone: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what acreage of biofuels was grown in England in each of the last five years. [119376]

Ian Pearson [holding answer 6 February 2007]: Definitive figures on the acreage of biofuels grown in England are not available. However some information on the area of oilseed rape grown for use in biofuel production is available from the Energy Aid Scheme which started in 2004. In England there were 32,237 hectares of oilseed rape grown in 2004 and in 2005 this had increased to 92,727 hectares.

These figures may not capture all oilseed rape grown for biofuel production; only that declared under this particular scheme. Oilseed rape grown on other land and which may have been used for biofuel production is not known because there is no way of identifying the end use of the crop. From 1 April 2008, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) will require a declaration of sustainability to help identify sources of biofuels.

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