Skip to main content

Fallen Stock

Volume 407: debated on Thursday 19 June 2003

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

8.

If she will make a statement on the disposal of fallen stock on farms. [120191]

10.

If she will make a statement on the proposed scheme for collecting fallen stock. [120195]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
(Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

The response to the letter that we sent to livestock farmers in April asking for expressions of interest in joining a national fallen stock scheme has been disappointing. In the light of that, we are considering whether the scheme should now go ahead, and if so in what form.

In welcoming the new Minister, may I also pay tribute to the former Minister for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Oldham, West and Royton (Mr. Meacher), whom I found to be both able and courteous?

Does the Minister agree that many livestock farmers may not have fully realised the implications of the European legislation? The Minister for the Environment shakes his head, but would not more people be attracted to the scheme if it were already up and running? Farmers will have great difficulty in disposing of fallen stock, especially if the Minister for Rural Affairs has his way on the hunting ban.

The hon. Gentleman may have a point when he says that if the scheme were up and running people might come on board, but I do not agree that we could have done more to publicise it. We have debated it for over a year, we have written to every livestock farmer in the country, and we have extended the consultation period. The response we have received does not suggest to us that people are not aware of the scheme; it is just that not enough people have responded.

Although the response was disappointing, as the Minister says, it is possible that those who did respond were the main livestock farmers. The response may have come from the larger holdings, where the scheme could work. Will the Minister look at the details of the responses from both England and Wales, and establish whether the scheme could be made to work initially? Other farmers could be persuaded to join subsequently.

Will the Minister also take account of the experience of Scotland? The scheme is going ahead on most farms there. Meanwhile, leeway is being given to upland and remote farms in, for instance, mid-Wales, where stock can be left to feed the rare red kite population. That combination could prove successful. Will the Minister look into it and ensure that something is done and that farmers are not left in limbo?

I will look at the details of the responses. From what I have seen during the few days in which I have been doing my job, I believe that there has been a bigger response from the bigger producers, and a bigger response from Wales and Scotland. That does not help our calculations, however. After my meeting with representatives of the fishing industry this afternoon, I shall discuss the matter during my first meeting with farming industry representatives, taking into account the points made by the hon. Gentleman.

The aims of the fallen stock scheme are laudable. The Minister may be surprised to learn, however, that farmers in my constituency must travel as far as Haverfordwest and the constituency of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) under the current scheme— journeys taking more than two hours—although there are local, established incinerators that could be brought up to standard. Will the Minister clarify the guidelines on grants that may be available, and specify the standard that the incinerators should meet?

I will look into that. I understand that the issue of grants is currently being investigated, as are the guidelines on the standards of incineration.

I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend.

I know from meetings I have had with farmers in my constituency that there will be great disappointment if the scheme does not take off. What about the BSE testing scheme? Will that still be in situ, and will beasts aged both under and over 24 months still be picked up free of charge?

The BSE scheme will remain in situ. The issue of the age of carcases i s under review. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's recognition—reflected, I think, on both sides of the House—that the scheme the Government came up with earlier this year is a good one. It is disappointing that there has not been a more positive response.

Leaving aside the substantial shortcomings of the scheme that has been proposed, will the Minister focus for a moment on one unfortunate side product? I use the term advisedly.

I understand that all the ash that will be produced from the incineration of the 200,000 tonnes of fallen stock each year will have to go into landfill, which contrasts starkly with what happens to ash from human crematoriums. If one's granny dies of black plague we can spread the ash on the garden, but if one's horse dies of old age we cannot. Will the Minister reconsider the regulations involved so that the ash can be put to better use—for instance, by being spread on the land?

The hon. Gentleman is rather unfair when he describes the scheme as having shortcomings. It is a very good scheme. It offers—it is still on the table—good value for money for producers of all sizes. The charges that were being talked about represented good value for money compared with the fees that producers would pay if they had to dispose of the fallen stock themselves in the free market. On the specific question of the disposal of ash, I am ashamed to admit that I was not aware of that problem, but I will look into it and write to the hon. Gentleman, if he will allow me.

The Poultry Farming in the United Kingdom Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I am a member, is conducting an inquiry under my chairmanship into the British poultry industry. Two days ago, we heard from the two national organisations for egg producers and meat producers that they have a significant problem with the disposal of dead birds, which number many millions a year. What access to any fallen stock scheme was offered to them? Would not that help to improve the viability of the scheme?

Yes. As it stands, large poultry producers would be eligible for the scheme. However, as I said earlier, because of the low number of responses to the Government's consultation, we may have to have another look at that matter. I am also aware that many of the producers that my hon. Friend talks about already have their own solutions to the problem, such as incineration on-site.