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Agriculture: Animal Feed

Volume 730: debated on Thursday 8 September 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the scientific basis for continuing the ban on feeding animal by-products and catering waste to pigs and chickens.

My Lords, the basis for banning the feeding of animal by-products and catering waste to pigs and chickens is to prevent the spread of serious animal diseases for which these materials may be a vector. The European Commission is proposing to lift the ban on feeding certain processed animal proteins to pigs and chickens in the light of scientific advice that the ban is no longer justified. The Government are considering their position.

I thank my noble friend for his reply. Can he confirm that if the EC relaxes the ban on non-ruminant ABP being fed to pigs and chickens; and if, following the consultations he refers to, the Government are satisfied by the scientific evidence that there are no public health risks, they will then lift the ban in the UK?

My Lords, obviously we want to take the scientific evidence into account and consider it very carefully. We also want to take into account likely consumer reaction because we want to take consumers along with us. If that were the case, yes, we would be prepared to lift the ban.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that although there is remaining uncertainty as to exactly the origins of the rogue prion that caused BSE and how it hopped into cattle, the balance of opinion and evidence is that it came from the unnatural practice of feeding animal by-products to cattle? In the light of that, would it not be wise to continue the current precautionary legislation?

My Lords, as a very eminent scientist, the noble Lord is right to draw the attention of the House to the scientific evidence. At this stage there is no question of lifting the ban on feeding to cattle. We are talking purely about non-ruminants, such as pigs and chickens, at this stage. Obviously we will look at the evidence and at what the Food Standards Agency has to say, and then make a decision.

We must proceed only on a risk-based approach and, as the Minister said, the other element to be considered is the acceptance by consumers of food so produced. The supermarkets are the gateway to the consumer. Can the Minister tell the House the attitude of supermarkets to reducing food waste by this change of policy? What discussion has his department had with supermarkets and the Food and Drink Federation?

My Lords, we will continue to discuss these matters with the supermarkets and others. Obviously, where it is appropriate, food waste can go to feed animals—already some food waste can do so, when it has been appropriately separated from meat and other such products. However, as I made clear earlier, any loosening of what is happening will depend on scientific evidence and consideration of these matters. I also think that it is important, as the noble Lord makes clear, that we take opinion along with us on this matter.

My Lords, would the Minister accept that traditionally fed pigs are very popular with the public in terms of the flavour of pork, and so on? They certainly were until the change in their food. Feeding pigs largely on soya has an unintended consequence, in that all the imports of soya are leading to the further destruction of the rainforests. We really must make clear that using our food waste as best we can to feed to pigs has important consequences much further away in the world.

My noble friend is right to point to further consequences of feeding animals in this way, in terms of producing the amount of soya used. Again, I stress to her, we should not make any changes unless the scientific evidence assures us that that is right and proper.

My Lords, would the Minister accept that the Government and the European authorities are right to proceed with caution on this front? I speak both as the Minister who was allegedly in charge during the last stages of food and mouth and as a former consumer champion. The noble Lord, Lord May, has spoken about BSE and we still do not know how the foot and mouth virus entered the chain. While some relaxation may be possible, I advise extreme caution.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord was totally in charge, and not just allegedly. As he puts it, we will proceed only if the scientific evidence is right and proper.

My Lords, it is very important we realise that the public perception is that the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in February 2001, which had such horrific consequences for the economy and everything else, was the result of feeding animals to animals. Although there is a suggestion—or at least the Minister has stated—that that will not happen with cattle, in the minds of the Great British public it does not matter whether it is cattle, pigs or poultry; they would still have this feeling. We must be awfully careful before relaxing the ban.

My Lords, the ban in 2001 that my noble friend refers to was a ban on swill. We had already banned the use of processed animal protein as a result of the BSE problems. I reiterate what I have said in answer to every question: we will proceed with extreme caution and we will base any decisions, as will the European Commission, on the scientific evidence available to us.