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House of Lords

Thursday, 11th January 1996.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Emtryl: Effect of EC Regulation

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they view the prospects for the rearing of game birds in the United Kingdom if the European ban on the use of Emtryl is not withdrawn.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, dimetridazole, the active ingredient of Emtryl, is the only authorised treatment for a number of serious diseases of game birds and its withdrawal from the market would have serious health and welfare consequences. The Government have been in regular contact with the Game Conservancy Trust and the Game Farmers' Association, both during EC discussions to keep the industry informed of developments and, following the publication of the amending regulation, to try to find an acceptable solution to their problems. A number of options are being urgently considered with the aim of safeguarding animal health and welfare while ensuring consumer safety.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply, but I am not sure exactly where it leaves the game rearing industry. Can my noble friend confirm that the ban on Emtryl is part of a European regulation (which means that it is not debated in national Parliaments) on which the United Kingdom was outvoted in June? If that is so, can my noble friend now give clear, unequivocal guidelines to those in the game rearing industry, which supports some 13,000 direct jobs and as many indirect jobs in this country, as to whether they will be breaking the law if they use Emtryl when they start rearing in only three weeks' time?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, my noble friend is right; it is a result of an EC regulation and we were outvoted. Spain, France, Italy and Portugal supported us, but that was not sufficient to carry the day. So far as concerns the current situation, under the regulation it is not now permissible to use Emtryl on game birds. However, as I said, we are pursuing the matter with the game rearing organisations and at length with the European Commission. We hope that we may be able to arrive at some reasonable compromise.

Lord Carter: My Lords, can the Minister say whether it is correct that Emtryl is used to keep the birds alive so they can later be shot? Is it also correct that

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Emtryl can still be included in poultry and, I believe, in pig feeds, but that it cannot be fed to game birds? What is the logic in that distinction?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, so far as concerns the first part of the noble Lord's question, the answer is yes; it is required because of the British practice of rearing game birds in the wild, rather than following the Italian practice of having them reared in Denmark and released a couple of days before the shoot. As regards the second part of the question, yes, the situation is completely illogical but the likely change of direction is to ban its use in turkey feed.

The Earl of Stockton: My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister give us an assurance that, pending a solution to the problem, there will be no action taken by his department against game farmers and game keepers who continue to use Emtryl for this breeding season?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we have no knowledge whatever of game breeders who are using or intend to use Emtryl during this breeding season; but we have no plans to police the matter, either.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is this not yet another interference with the "nooks and crannies" of British life as described by the former Foreign Secretary? Further, is it really necessary for the Government to comply with this particular regulation? Finally, can the Minister say whether there have been any cases of food poisoning arising from the use of this chemical called Emtryl?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the decision whether to ban Emtryl is, taking a fair view of it, a difficult one. Emtryl is a compound which, in some studies, has proved carcinogenic. It is a type of compound which is likely to prove carcinogenic because it poisons the DNA. The studies on its safety were carried out some while ago and are well short of modern standards. The difficulties arise because the markets that it is used for are small. The costs of proving that it is safe would be in excess of £2 million and no one is willing to come forward with the money to do so. It is not an unreasonable decision to ban it; it is just a difficult decision and one that has gone the wrong way for us.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, will my noble friend say why it is the business of our European friends to legislate summarily on an issue of this kind affecting this country? Is it not absolute nonsense that they should be interfering?

Lord Lucas: No, my Lords, I think it is sensible that these things should be decided at a European level and that we should decide on a common basis what chemicals to allow in our foodstuffs and what not. For instance, the Germans treat these particular protozoan diseases with organo-arsenic compounds. When other products are reviewed under the process to which Emtryl has been subject, we hope that meat so treated

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will not be allowed into this country. I think it is quite reasonable that these things should be decided by common consent. Some we will win, and some we shall lose; but, in general, we are concerned with consumer health and if there are consequences in other areas we shall do our best to alleviate them.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, is the distinction between poultry and game not peculiarly illogical as the game will have been released and been free of treatment for three months before it is consumed whereas the poultry might have been treated the day before it was killed and eaten?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I cannot but agree with the noble Viscount except to say that of course partridges may be shot a matter of a few weeks after being released even in this country and there is no ban on our establishing Italian practices so far as game rearing is concerned in this country which would present their own problems. The permission to use this substance on turkeys is under another EC regulation which is not currently being reviewed but we suspect it will be in the not too distant future.

Lord Kimball: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the advice which he has had from the veterinary medicine directive is perfectly clear--that safe levels can be set for Emtryl and that a ban is in no way justified?

Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords, that is indeed our position; but, nonetheless, this has to be a decision on a balance of risk. We understand the situation and appreciate the position taken by other members of the Community. It is in no way an unreasonable decision; it is just a decision that we would have taken in the other direction.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, with reference to an earlier answer of my noble friend, will he confirm that the carcinogenic effects of Emtryl were only discovered in single celled organisms and in nothing else? Will he also admit that there is no alternative to Emtryl, and that up to 50 per cent. of a flock can die without it? In those circumstances, how do the Government view the prospect of up to 10 million birds dying in great pain this summer?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, we very much hope it will not come to that. There are a number of avenues to pursue. There are other chemicals which may prove to be equally effective, and the Game Conservancy is pursuing them. There are different rearing practices which may make these diseases less common. Perhaps current rearing practices have taken advantage of the availability of Emtryl and have not looked at other possibilities. There are a number of ways in which we might act within the nooks and crannies of EC regulations to help game farmers out if there is some reason to suspect a plague of disease. We do not believe it will come to the worst prognostications of my noble friend.

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East Jerusalem

3.17 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations they have made to the Government of Israel concerning the moves of their Ministries of Housing and Agriculture, together with the police and army headquarters and the civil courts, into premises situated in areas of East Jerusalem held as a result of military occupation.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we avoid arranging meetings and calls with officials in Israeli Government offices in East Jerusalem. We also regularly reiterate and make clear our view that the status of Jerusalem is a matter to be determined in the final status talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and that nothing should be done in the meantime which might pre-empt the outcome of those negotiations.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply and very much welcome it. Will he be willing to convey my congratulations at least to his right honourable friend Mr. Hanley on his recent visit to Orient House in East Jerusalem for discussions with the Palestinian leaders?

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