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Animals: Diseases

Volume 469: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) which pathogens handled under Specified Animal Pathogens Order licence in the UK for viruses and diseases are not normally present in British livestock; and if he will make a statement; (170867)

(2) what the benefits to the UK are of handling pathogens under SAPO licence for viruses and diseases that are not normally present in British livestock; and if he will make a statement.

The UK is vulnerable to the introduction of exotic animal disease as global trade in animals and animal products increases. Despite sophisticated systems of import control, we cannot hope to reduce the risk of introduction of disease to zero. Climate change and the threat of bio-terrorism also present new means by which animal disease could be introduced to this country. We must therefore ensure we can prepare for, and react quickly to, all disease outbreaks.

The Government's ability to respond to outbreaks of exotic animal disease depends on having ready access to specialist facilities where diseases can be diagnosed quickly and with confidence, and where research is carried out on animal pathogens and the mechanisms to deal with disease outbreaks. This was highlighted by the pressure put on existing facilities during the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak in the UK. At least some of this work must be done in a facility with high bio-containment capability.

DEFRA has issued licences to a number of laboratories to hold category 3 and 4 viruses. Details of specific viruses which laboratories have licences for cannot be divulged as they are commercially confidential.