|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, I am very genuinely a seeker after truth on this matter. Why is it more dangerous to carve meat off the bone at home, having cooked it with the bone in in your oven, than to cook at home meat which has been taken off the bone at the butchers? I simply do not understand. The noble Lord is obviously very well informed and very clever, so he will undoubtedly be able to tell me why that is the case.
Decisions often have to be taken in the interests of public health before the scientific evidence is complete. Waiting for the scientific evidence risks allowing an epidemic to get out of control. I agree that in this case we are talking about very small numbers. The most famous example of why it is necessary to take action when the cause is not yet fully understood will be well known to your Lordships. I refer to the case of Dr. John Snow who observed an outbreak of cholera in London's West End in the middle of the last century. He suspected the water pump at Broad Street of being contaminated and the source of the outbreak, but he was puzzled by the outlying death from cholera of a woman in Hampstead--until he found out that she liked the taste of the Broad Street water and had it specially brought to her every day. That clinched the evidence as far as he was concerned, and he removed the handle of the offending pump, much to local people's annoyance. Shortly afterwards, the epidemic subsided. The point of the story is that that action was taken before the microbe causing cholera had been discovered.
The current CJD problem is, as the noble Lord described, much smaller and CJD develops much more slowly than cholera. The risk to any individual is vastly less, but the principle still applies. To answer the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, to leave the deboning of beef to individuals, having given them a warning, was one of the options open to my right honourable friend the Minister, but that would not have protected those who ate out or bought mince, sausages, or other meat products which could have come from carcases which had not been "deboned". Incidentally,
Finally, I come to the silver lining. Noble Lords will be pleased that I shall soon sit down. The silver lining is as much a reason for the regulations as the protection of public health. I am quite clear about that. If we had not brought in these regulations, or something very similar, the prospect of British beef being allowed back into Europe would have receded. The regulations are one more nail in the coffin of BSE as a source of human disease. As my noble friend will explain, they have been acknowledged by the European Commission--that body which all farmers love since it administers that golden egg, the CAP. The Commission's approval will undoubtedly bring forward the end of the export ban on British beef to Europe.
However, it is perfectly possible that there will never again be such a high demand for beef as there was before the BSE epidemic. Demand for beef was already falling previously, so it could be that the cattle farmers who are diversifying to other livestock or other use of their land in response to the present crisis will prove to have been wise. Although it was not an easy decision for my right honourable friend to make, as it puts an extra burden on an already hard-pressed industry, I am sure that it was the right decision. Those noble Lords who intend to oppose the regulations in the Division Lobbies this afternoon will, in fact, be doing the beef industry a disservice, and they should think again.
Lord Kimball: My Lords, the House has had the benefit of the expert medical knowledge and experience of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, but he still has not answered the real question posed by my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke which is, quite simply: Why are not the British public allowed to make up their own minds about the risk? The noble Lord's advice is there for all to read and see.
We cannot consider the beef regulations in isolation without also considering what are known as the "Specific Risk Material Orders" which also came into effect on 1st January 1998. They represent an additional burden on the farming community and pose a serious problem for the knacker trade and the collection of fallen stock. What is so annoying about the Specific Risk Material Orders is that they have been brought into force in this country by our excellent Civil Service on the ground that they bring us into line with Europe, but the Europeans do not even have a date for the introduction of their Specific Risk Material Orders although it is rumoured to be at the beginning of April.
Noble Lords will have read in Hansard how my noble friend Lord Vinson has pursued the point about whether BSE occurs in sheep which are over three years old. We all know that scrapie has occurred in sheep for hundreds of years. Many noble Lords will have seen a ewe going round and round in circles. Shepherds used to bore a hole in the wretched animal's head to let out the pressure and then block it up again with Archangel Tar. The sheep would then recover. Scrapie has been a fairly
The real problem with the beef regulations is that fallen stock can be fed to animals--to dogs and hounds--provided the head, spine and tail have been removed. The head, spine and oxtail go to the renderers. We have a further problem. The unacceptable parts of the animal have to be rendered, but the Government are month by month reducing the amount of money that they give to the renderers. That has put an enormous burden on the knacker trade to carry out its own rendering or, in some cases, where planning permission can be gained, to provide its own equipment for burning the surplus parts. Adding the Specific Risk Material Orders to that problem means that it is impossible to feed to a dog any material other than the legs of a dead sheep.
We are coming up to lambing time and we all know that throughout the countryside very many dead sheep will need to be collected and skinned and will be fed to the hounds. On Exmoor alone last year, 2,232 sheep were collected voluntarily by those responsible for the five packs of hounds on Exmoor. The sheep were skinned, incinerated and fed to the hounds. If all that can be fed to the hounds are the legs of dead sheep, who is going to collect and skin those sheep? Skinning a ewe that has been dead for two days is not a particularly pleasant prospect. It was done because, first, the remaining meat could be fed to the hounds and, secondly, the person who skinned it got an extra three quid for presenting a fleece. Today, the price of that skin has fallen to 50p. That makes it an even more unattractive job. Could we not come to some arrangement such as we had during the war when unclean meat was covered with a dye and all of it could then be fed to the hounds?
My noble friend Lord Willoughby made it perfectly clear that all noble Lords feel that in this case the Government have adopted the wrong option. The right option was to publish as much information as possible about the problem of BSE and let the public make up their own minds.
History always repeats itself. In 1795 Members of both Houses who were enthusiastic about the future of agriculture complained that Mr. Pitt and his government were far too interested in matters European to concentrate on the problems of British agriculture. In 1795 they agreed to dine together regularly and raise money for Smithfield Show and the improvement of agriculture throughout the United Kingdom. They have done so for the past 202 years. One way of helping agriculture was to insist that marrow bones and mutton pies were always on the menu. This has continued for some 202 years, except in 1862 when another cattle plague, rinderpest, swept through the countryside and marrow bones were withdrawn from the menu. It is recorded in the minutes of the Farmers' Club of 1795 that the then secretary was empowered to call upon the Archbishop of Canterbury to pray for deliverance from
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for not being in my place when my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke first rose to move his Motion. The Motion is a very good and apposite one. I had the temerity to address the House last Wednesday and give my views on BSE and CJD. I do not propose to rehearse all of those points, although frequently I do not remember what I have said and I have no reason to flatter myself that your Lordships should remember what I have said. The fact is that we have had a problem over BSE and CJD and that there is no known proven connection between them. However, both this Government and the previous government have been obliged to take certain measures.
The present Government have taken further measures to try to avoid people getting CJD. It has been pointed out on many occasions that there are only 23 such cases: three cases three years ago, 10 two years ago and 10 last year. The number is not great. But under the regulations now before your Lordships it is proposed to make illegal the sale of beef on the bone because of the prevalence of what is known as dorsal root ganglia. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, knows this but if not perhaps I can impress upon him that this year there are only three animals in the whole of the United Kingdom which could have this problem. Even if they do it does not mean that they will transmit it to human beings. And even if they transmit it it does not mean that human beings will be affected by it. Or, if they are affected, it does not mean that they will die.
As explained last week, by the time one has gone through that gamut, the chance of dying from beef on the bone is about one in 600 million. The regulations have been vilified by the farming community and by those who want to buy and cook beef on the bone. To be told that they should not do so is an absurdity. It is quite undesirable. The Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory committee never advised the Government to do this. The Government took the decision on their own without consultation. Their action has proved acutely unpopular not only within the farming community but in other circles.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, says that it is in the interests of public health. It is nothing of the kind. There is no public health interest if only three animals are likely to have the disease. The noble Lord also says that the purpose is that beef should be allowed back into Europe. We heard last Wednesday from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and from the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, that the intention was to placate Europe. That is a very bad reason for producing a very bad set of regulations. I see the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington--bless his heart--in his place. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, will be broad-minded and realise that the Government would not lose face if they accepted the Motion. All it suggests
The Government would gain a great deal of credence and respect if they agreed to take away the regulations and consult further. Having consulted, they might consider it necessary to bring them back. I hope that the Government will do as I suggest. If they do not-- I realise that that is only a minimal possibility--I hope that your Lordships will vote for the Motion. The Motion does not defeat the regulations but enables them to be taken away in order that more consultation can take place.
This Government of all governments like consultation. At least they say they do. There is no reason therefore why they should not have more consultation about something that is ridiculed throughout the country.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page