In Parliament 7th March 2014

Given the recent floods and the media attention to them, MPs have been keen to ask what steps are being made to reduce current and future risks, not least in relation to disease management, Catherine Paice reports.

Although he hasn’t spoken live since 13th February, DEFRA Under Secretary of State George Eustice (Con, Cambourne & Redruth) has been busy in written replies. Responding to Anne Main (Con, St Albans), he confirmed 1,500-1,600 cattle were evacuated as a result of floods in the South-West. Because of the threat of bovine tuberculosis, he confirmed that all high-risk post-movement cattle are to be tested. He also stated that farmers do not need permission to move their animals, unless livestock are subject to disease-specific movement controls.

With the apparent ‘failure’ of the recent badger culling trials – partly due to huge disruption on the ground from the antis – Tracey Crouch (Con, Chatham & Aylesford) was back on the bovine TB vaccine bandwagon. What are the economic implications, she asked? The response was that new estimates will be published on whether vaccinating badgers would be cheaper than culling after a decision is made on a wider rollout.

Roger Godsiff (Lab, Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath), pressed the Secretary of State on the options to culling. “Badger culling is only one part of our programme for tackling bovine tuberculosis,” Mr Eustice said, again. “We will use every tool available.” These tools will include tougher movement controls for cattle, better biosecurity on farms and development of better vaccines. The relative information regarding the number of cattle infected, and those wrongly classified – it does happen – has been placed in the Commons Library. As far as the AHLVA SAM IT failure is concerned, a full explanation was included in national statistics on the Incidence of TB in cattle to end-November 2013 for Great Britain, released on 12th February, Mr Eustice said.

Agri-environment programmes were touched on this week. Funding for predator control was tackled by the Northern Irish Unionist MP Jim Shannon (Strangford). Mr Eustice confirmed that new fencing options to help protect ground-nesting bird populations are to be available from 2016, and £200,000 of funding is going on habitat ‘manipulation’ to reduce fox predation on lapwings and redshank.

Iain Mckenzie (Scottish Lab, Inverclyde) tabled a question asking about improving the accuracy of labelling of processed foods. Whatever us consumers think, Mr Eustice’s first point was that European law is clear that food labels must not mislead the consumer. The new Regulation on the Provision of Food Information to Consumers reinforces this and the bulk of these regulations will come into effect on 13th December this year. In 2012 and 2013 local authorities carried out 86,000 tests on food products “to check their safety and authenticity”. Mr Eustice did not go into detail on the discovery – although this must have coincided with the horsemeat saga. However, he did say the Government has increased funding to support local authorities in their sampling programmes, from £1.6 million to £2.2m.

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