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The Countess of Mar: I do not oppose what the Minister has said. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, spoke of the precautionary principle and no one appreciates more than I do what a horrible disease CJD is. The fact that it hits young people is very emotionally stirring. However, we must also remember that farmers breed their sheep over many years. Some of them would be extremely distressed to lose their sheepand we know about farmers' suicide rates. We must carry out a risk assessment before deciding on how extreme we shall be on removing farmers' livelihoods.
I am exercising the precautionary principle in another direction and believe that the matter should be viewed from both sides. I recognise that CJD is a horrible disease, but there is insufficient scientific evidence to show that BSE is in sheep or is linked to human CJD. We need to look at both sides of the picture.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Lord said: The age of electronic identification can mean many things. The method is more difficult to apply to sheep than to other animals. The identification is implanted in the form of a bolus. That is the only way at present that we can achieve electronic identification.
However, the Bill has to guard against the cheapest form of identification and must openly consider, therefore, the animal's welfare. The amendment attempts to do so. It is vitally important that any electronic identification device is effective and as tamper proof as possible. It is for that reason that we have tabled the amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Jopling: We have been somewhat remiss in not drawing attention during debate to the first appearance on the Front Bench of my noble friend Lord Plumb. If Members of the Committee will allow me to do so, I remember being, I think, the youngest member of the National Farmers Union Council many years ago when the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, was one of the gods. He later became President of the National Farmers Union and President of the European Parliament. It is a great reflection on his abilities that he should add to his CV, "Front Bench spokesman"occasional it may be"in the House of Lords".
Hand-held devices are available on the market for reading the information held in the tag. Crushes are available which sheep and cattle can pass through. Again, they are equipped to identify the information stored in the device. But the equipment is fairly expensive. Can the Minister say whether this will involve a large capital outlay which farmers will have to face in order to fulfil their half of the job of tagging the animal?
As I recall, another problem could arise. Difficulties can be encountered when implanting tags under the skin. I understand that the tag can move around the body of the animal. That was certainly the case when I had some knowledge of these matters some years ago, but I may be out of date.
It would be helpful if the noble Baronessfrom watching the body language on the Front Bench, I have the impression that the noble Baroness is the Minister who is to replycould set out the details with regard to the capital outlay for the electronic reading devices and what is the position with regard to implanted tags possibly moving around in the body.
The Countess of Mar: I have explained that we are members of the national scrapie plan. The current procedure involves shooting a bolus into the stomach of the sheep, which remains in place for the rest of the animal's life. It is provided free of charge by DEFRA. I should like to know whether the tagging will continue to be provided free of charge. Individual farmers do not need the reading devices because only DEFRA is interested in the information.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I, too, should like to take this opportunity to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, to his rolenot permanent but for an occasional guest performanceon the Opposition Front Bench. Given the noble Lord's knowledge and background, I must admit that I shall welcome him even more when my noble friend replies than when I must do so personally. I am sure that he will understand that.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, was right. She answered the point with regard to genotype identification by saying that the Government meet the capital outlay. On the further point, we recognise the concerns about causing distress to animals. We would not want to cause any unnecessary pain or suffering. However, it can be difficult to identify pain in an animal and thus it is a very subjective term to use in legislation. I can assure noble Lords, however, that we recognise the concerns and want to continue to put the welfare of sheep as a matter of paramount importance to inspectors as they apply the electronic identification devices.
I hope that those explanations will reassure the noble Lord. The Government are paying for the devices and, as the noble Countess, pointed out, they remain in place for life. The reading is carried out as a part of the project and therefore the identification devices are not a problem for farmers.
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