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MARK RICHER, House of Commons meeting, 29 Nov 2001

Mark Richer, MRCVS, B.Vet Med, Cert Sam, Dip Law barrister, and RCVS advisor to the RSPCA states that the new Bill is unscientific, illogical, and creates a power which is so disproportionate to the need, that it not only compromises the welfare of animals, but it also removes the rights of the animal owning public.

Mary Critchley: Mark Richer is not only a former member of the council of the RCVS but he is also a barrister, and honorary adviser to the RSPCA.

Mark Richer: Thank you. Knowing that I was going last, I thought I might try to guess what everyone else was going to say and perhaps try to some up some of the things that I thought people would say. This bill isn't something as new as some people would suggest it is.

It doesn't alter the power of the minister to slaughter animals of any description. That power already exists in the1981 Animal Health Act. What it introduces, is the power of the minister to slaughter animals without any scientific evidence that they have, or may spread disease.

This applies to foot and mouth and any other disease that the minister chooses to specify. What it does is remove the stipulation for a good veterinary epidemiological reason for any slaughter that is to take place.

It seems to me, and to many others that it is axiomatic that veterinary supervision at all levels should be compulsory. The bill would allow the slaughter of animals not capable of being affected by foot and mouth, or any other disease the minister cares to specify. And it would allow them to slaughter if the minister thought that they were capable of spreading it. At all.

So that if your dog wanders across a field, you'll have to say goodbye to it. It would allow animals vaccinated to be slaughtered. Not only animals vaccinated against foot and mouth, but also animals vaccinated against any other disease specified by the minister. This ignores the question of whether a vaccinated animal poses a risk of spreading disease. We're not just talking about foot and mouth. The purpose of any vaccination is to reduce significantly the risk of those vaccinated contracting that disease. In many diseases the purpose of vaccination is also to reduce significantly, or to prevent totally, the excretion of disease-causing organisms; and thus prevent the spread of disease.

To extend this power from foot and mouth, which some would say is a special, but not unique case, to all diseases is unscientific, it's illogical, and it creates a power which is so disproportionate to the need, that it not only compromises the welfare of animals, but it also removes the rights of the animal owning public.

What this bill does is take power, not only from the individual animal-owning public, but from the legislative, from parliament, and giving it to the executive, to one member of the executive; and gives that person absolute power. It contains no checks or balances which are practicable. The application criteria for a magisterial warrant to enter premises or to slaughter - is so widely drafted, that it is easy to put a case for an issue of a warrant, without fear of refusal. There is no real power for the magistrate to refuse. The judiciary are thus even emasculated. The power again remains with one individual. In the executive.

It is unfortunately the nature of the world, that some men seek to profit from other's misery. Despite protestations, there is evidence of some, no doubt a very small number of farmers, who have sought to deliberately infect their stock during this outbreak. And here lies a gap in the bill. Farmers who deliberately infect their stock will be guilty of an offence, they may be imprisoned or fined, but they will still get their compensation. Only 75% of it, but they will still get it. No course of equity would so reward such a person. There should be no compensation for people who deliberately infect their animals.

With regard to the issue of scrapie provisions in this bill: There is insufficient evidence, as we have already heard, regarding the susceptibility of ovine genotypes. What we must ask is what these new powers will do to the sheep genetic pool. Whether animals are slaughtered or neutered, the effect in the long term is the eradication of the breeds. Judged again by one person, to be predisposed.

What else will we lose when we eradicate these breeds, pre-disposed to scrapie, but perhaps resisting, as we have already heard, some other diseases. The history of the genetic manipulation of animals is littered with examples of lost, useful genetic pools. And the selection of genetic pools that are limited and contain increased susceptibility to other diseases, genetic or otherwise. Often the opportunity to correct these mistakes is then lost - forever. If you have sown the wind, so shall you reap the whirlwind.

The answer is not to remove genetically susceptible animals, but to remove the disease. Perhaps to test and cull out affected individuals. To test imported animals, and to find a treatment or a vaccine.

The idea of slaughtering this defiant group of animals comes from hysteria over an unproven and unlikely potential of TSE's to cause disease in people. You do not prevent your arm from being broken by amputating it. Wisdom after the event is wisdom not at all. True wisdom is foreseeing what will result from an action before that action is taken.

If parliament is minded to allow this bill to receive royal assent as it stands, then I ask the Members of Parliament, to look to one of the father's of this Parliament, Oliver Cromwell, whose statue stands at the front of this house. When you walk out this evening, Members of Parliament, look up at his figure. Hear his words rolling forth out of history. "I beseech you in the name of the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken."

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