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Volume 115: debated on Tuesday 28 April 1987

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he now has the results of the accelerated growth experiments carried out on Cumbrian vegetation contaminated by the Chernobyl fallout; and if he will make a statement.

We have just received some preliminary results from two successive croppings of the vegetation which was removed from the Cumbrian restricted area and grown on under simulated spring conditions.It had been hoped that radiocaesium levels in spring grass would show substantial falls as caesium became locked into the soil. Unfortunately, these low mineral soils are not binding caesium as efficiently as lowland soils and the first two cuts have shown evidence of some continuing recycling of radiocaesium. While the simulated conditions may not fully parallel conditions on the hillside, the indications are that the reservoir of available radiocaesium in the root matt in some upland species is larger than we had hoped and we must now expect that there will continue to be some radiocaesium in the vegetation eaten by certain upland sheep in the restricted areas in Cumbria and Wales in this spring and early summer. In practical terms, it means that restrictions on the movement and slaughter of sheep in the worse affected areas will probably have to remain in place for most of the 1987 marketing season.We shall continue to monitor the situation carefully. In view of our established live monitoring capability there will be no need for blanket bans and we shall do all we can to operate any necessary controls as flexibly as possible. Monitored sheep that pass the test are free to go for slaughter. For the small percentage that fail and have to be marked, we have full compensation arrangements for any price blight at auction. These arrangements were revised recently to encompass individual lot valuation, as well as special provision for ewes with lambs at foot.Additional research has been put in hand to find the best practicable means of reducing the present problems and minimising the need for restrictions. I will keep the House informed.For the future, we have an extensive programme of research and monitoring in progress which will enable us to refine our predictions and to identify when and/or where controls might be relaxed. I will keep the House informed of progress on this work.