9 November 2001
Battle brews over Animal Health Bill

By Isabel Davies

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

Critics believe the Bill breaches the Human Rights Act and would force farmers to slaughter livestock in the event of a re-run of foot-and-mouth.

And they are disputing claims by Countryside Minister Elliot Morley, who insisted to MPs this week that it complies with European Union law.

Barrie Jones, legal director for the Farmers Union of Wales, said the 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,” he said.

“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 website that he would be worried if government officials slaughter animals 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.

A National Farmers Union 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.

Mr Morley has justified the new laws by saying the proposed new bill would improve culling efficiency in the event of a disease epidemic.

“Vets in Thirsk were adamant that appeals and delays were stopping them from getting on top of [foot-and-mouth] disease,” said Mr Morley.

But he denied that farmers would lose all right to appeal claiming they could still appeal informally before culling took place.