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Sheep Dips: Research

Volume 569: debated on Thursday 22 February 1996

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3.19 p.m.

Which research organisations are to receive the £1.2 million allocated by them to study alternatives, including vaccines, to organophosphate sheep dips to protect sheep against scab.

My Lords, two research contracts have recently been awarded. The first is for studies on an immunological approach to sheep scab control, and represents a major collaborative effort by seven laboratories. These are the Central Veterinary Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; the Universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Leeds; the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh, the Babraham Institute in Cambridge; and the School of Biological Sciences in Bangor.

The second, complementary study, aims to understand the critical factors that affect the spread and development of sheep scab and includes looking for natural predators of the sheep scab mite. The study is being undertaken by the University of Liverpool in collaboration with the University of Bristol, the Central Veterinary Laboratory and the School of Biological Sciences, Bangor.

My Lords, I am grateful that the Government have seen fit to fund the research. Am I correct in my understanding that the project is to last between two-and-a-half and three years? If that is the case, will the licensing of any vaccine produced during that time be fast tracked, in view of the fact that a great deal of sheep scab is occurring throughout the country?

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House recognises the contribution that the noble Countess has made towards our resolution to pursue the problem of sheep scab and the alternative methods of controlling it. As regards this project, it is at an early stage and at the frontiers of known science. If everything went perfectly, which we would not expect, we would have a useful vaccine in seven years time. We should be pleased if we had a vaccine in 10 years' time but it may well be longer.

My Lords, in view of the defects as regards the resistance of sheep scab mites to one of the main chemical alternatives to OP dips, will the Government accelerate the work on at least one of the two research projects so that it will be completed in less than three years? During that time we may see the possibility of alleviating the very unsatisfactory dilemma that is presented to sheep farmers who wish to dip their sheep.

My Lords, no, I do not believe that there is anything we can do to speed up the research projects. They take the time that they take because that is the required time. The end product will not be a useful vaccine but an indication of how a useful vaccine might be developed. We are still a long way away from having an alternative to chemical control.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, mentioned the resistance of mites to the pyrethroid group of dips. Many farmers are returning to the use of OPs. While I realise that sheep scab must be controlled, may I ask the Minister to ensure that the medical profession is well aware of the symptoms of OP poisoning in humans? There are still problems and every day I receive tragic letters from people who are receiving no co-operation from their GPs or consultants.

My Lords, however much I may do to respond to the noble Countess's request my effectiveness will be much less than hers.