9 November 2001

Battle brewing over proposed government Animal Health Bill

By Isabel Davies

THE government looks set to face a battle over its proposed Animal Health Bill which is due to have its second reading in Parliament on Monday (Nov 12).

Critics believe the bill breaches the Human Rights Act and would force farmers to comply with orders to slaughter livestock in the event of another foot-and-mouth outbreak. And they are disputing claims by junior DEFRA minister Elliot Morley, who insisted to MPs this week that it complies with EU law.

Barrie Jones, legal director for the Farmers Union of Wales, said the arbitrary culling of animals without an appeals procedure could well breach EU law. "These proposals are flawed because they represent a blanket agreement to go in and kill any animals. We consider such all-embracing measures are incompatible with the human rights act."

Some legal experts have also voiced concern. Stephen Smith QC told the warmwell.com web-site that he would be worried if government officials were granted the power to enter premises and slaughter without consent. "I find it very difficult to see how this proposed process can properly be said to be compatible with Convention rights," he said.

An NFU spokeswoman said the union was preparing a briefing paper for MPs which would set out concerns about the bill. This was likely to include the question of whether MPs could be confident the bill did comply with human rights law. "But until it becomes law it is impossible to really say if it will or wont," she added.

Mr Morley justified the planned legislation to the Rural Affairs Select Committee on Tuesday (Nov 6) by saying there was a "very high risk" F&M could re-emerge and the new bill would improve culling efficiency. He again claimed that appeals against culling had helped prolong the epidemic.

"Vets in Thirsk were adamant that appeals and delays were stopping them from getting on top of the disease," said Mr Morley. But he denied that farmers would lose all right to appeal claiming they could still appeal informally to the divisional veterinary manager before culling took place.

Meanwhile, the Countryside Action Network has launched an online petition against the bill (at www.petitiononline.com). Spokeswoman Janet George said: "This is draconian legislation and we have no doubt that it will be opposed by most farming and animal welfare organisations." &#42