LAWRENCE ALDERSON, House of Commons meeting,
29 Nov 2001


Lawrence Alderson Director of Rare Breeds International, explains that the "Animal Health Bill" is in direct contravention of the Convention of Biological Diversity, of which this Government is a signatory, and in which it undertook to conserve the diversity in these islands not only of wildlife, but of domestic livestock also.

Mary Critchley: I will move on and ask Mr Alderson, who is the director of Rare Breeds International, to talk to us from the point of view of the rare breeds and bio-diversity of animals.

Lawrence Alderson: The series of animal health problems/disease problems that we have had in recent times, have had a quite devastating effect on the livestock industry, and if we look at some of the reams that have been written in combination of that group - BSE first of all, and particularly foot and mouth - we find that some breeds have lost enormous proportions of their breeding population.

We look at three categories that might be considered breeds of genetic importance. We have some breeds that are specially adapted to a local environment. Breeds such as the Herdwick in the Lake District, and the Rough Fells. Both those populations are very specially adapted, and both have lost in the region of 35% of their population. One third of the total breed has disappeared.

We look at other breeds, breeds that have especially distinctive characteristics; Shetland sheep for example, and Shetland cattle as well, which have got a special quality, a high percentage of CLA, which is important for human health, in terms of dietary considerations. British Milk Sheep, which is the highest performing breed in Britain, has lost 50% of its population. These are absolutely huge figures. We're looking at breeds that are numerically scarce already, then breeds such as White Faced Woodland in the Pennines, Hill Rednor Sheep in South Wales, 25% loss. Belted Galloway cattle up in the heartland of the disease up in Cumbria and Dumfries 30% loss.

Those are just some examples of the losses that have already occurred, from foot and mouth. We now come to the Animal Health Bill; and powers which it may make available to Government will make what has gone already look quite tame. Because the draconian powers that have been mentioned already, give authority for slaughter of whatever the Government feels should be slaughtered. And that is an entirely different dimension of slaughter.

I will mention at that point of course, that if we had had a different policy, for the control of foot and mouth disease; if we had used vaccination, and there hadn't been the slaughter, for example, those losses I have just mentioned wouldn't have occurred. We would still have the genetic resource available to us.

But in the future, if the clauses of the Animal Health Bill are applied, then not only could the slaughter of the foot and mouth control that we had, have taken place at a much higher level, but if we look at an entirely different disease in the form of scrapie - it states that any genotype that is more vulnerable than another, that is, all but the most resistant; those animals can be slaughtered.

If it was applied, there are certain breeds in this country where the loss could be 100%. We wouldn't be talking about the loss of 30, or 40, or 50 percent, that there has been already. We would be talking about 100% loss of some breeds. And that would be because they don't have the genotypes that are resistant to scrapie or are considered resistant to scrapie.

This is in direct contravention of the Convention of Biological Diversity, of which this Government is a signatory, in which it undertook to conserve the diversity in these islands not only of wildlife, but of domestic livestock also. So there is a direct contradiction immediately, and if we talk about 100% loss of a breed, this is a very considerable divergence from that bio-diversity.

The Bill does make some reference to exceptional circumstances, which may be used to prevent slaughter of animals which otherwise might be. I am trying to get some guidance from DEFRA on the definition of exceptional circumstances. And I have to say they are very reluctant to be pinned down. They are talking generally, to me anyway, in the correspondence that I have had, in terms of the exceptions that may occur with animals that have special local adaptation or distinctive characteristics, or that are low in numbers.

It's very general, there's no precision, there's no definition as to what they really do mean by exceptional circumstances. And therefore at this stage, I am inclined to take a very cautious view of any benefit that might derive from the proceedings. The other thing that worries me enormously, and some of our other speakers may have much more knowledge than I, and that is that I believe that the Bill is based on bad science.

One of the genotypes which they wish to remove is ARQ. ARQ is also associated with many beneficial characteristics, so it's quite possible that we are throwing out the baby with the bath water. Even more worrying is that the very genotype which they are seeking to conserve; the ARR, because it's considered to be resistant to scrapie, may in fact not be so. It may simply be that ARR is masking a long incubation scrapie.

So, what I see in the present it that unfortunately we have an Animal Health Bill which is threatening native breeds, as I have described, it's therefore threatening animal diversity, in contravention to the Convention. Also, we have what I would call the political application of bad science. Thank you.

Mary Critchley: I would just like to re-emphasise one of the main points - which seems to me absolutely vital and I have never seen it anywhere else. I haven't seen it discussed in the media, or spoken about before, which is that the relationship between the genotypes and resistance to scrapie is not understood; and that decisions are being made in ignorance. They are being made in ignorance. It is bad science, and this is being rushed through parliament.

Roger Green: If I could please come in there: It is quite true and there are several types of scapie, and what they are doing is selecting for just one, but supposedly they have selected those that are not resistant to scrapie A. But there is certainly evidence to show by doing that there will be more susceptibility to scrapie C. Ones that are destined to be culled, will have more resistance to scrapie C. So, without confusing you too much, then I'd say the science is not clear. And that's what needs to be made clear.

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